Irritable bowel syndrome: A common and embarrassing illness

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common yet debilitating and often embarrassing illness. Don’t suffer in silence, we tell you what you need to know.

Irritable bowel syndrome may not be a serious or life-threatening condition, but this does not mean it should be taken lightly. If not managed correctly it can have a huge negative impact on the sufferer’s quality of life. Those who suffer from bouts of IBS (approximately 12 million Britons) may feel depressed, anxious, and uneasy about making plans for normal, everyday activities that others take for granted.

Also see: Common Digestive Disorders

The main symptoms are:

• Abdominal pain and cramping – often accompanied by severe bouts of either diarrhoea or constipation. (Sufferers can sometimes suffer from both)
• Bloating and swelling of your abdomen
• Excessive wind (flatulence or belching)
• A noticeable and significant change in your bowel habits, such as needing to go to the toilet more urgently, or more often.

The symptoms of IBS tend to vary in intensity and range according to each individual.  Some sufferers’ may also experience backache, a frequent need to pass water, breathlessness, headaches and dizziness.

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Despite extensive research, many facts about IBS remain a mystery. The exact cause of the condition is unknown but many experts speculate it’s related to an increased sensitivity of the gut. This could result from a number of factors, which include a change in your body’s ability to digest certain foods, increased sensitivity to pain from your gut or a stressed and anxious nervous system.
Diagnosis is also difficult, as IBS does not cause any obvious detectable abnormalities in your digestive system and can vary greatly from person to person and even from one bout to the next. Your GP will usually make a diagnosis based on a combination of your symptoms, blood tests and a physical examination.

The mysteries that still surround IBS and the wide variation in its symptoms, causes, severity and diagnosis mean there is no ‘one cure fits all’ approach to managing the condition. Instead sufferers should aim to take control of the illness, to improve their quality of life and make everyday living much more comfortable. This can be achieved through improving your overall health and wellbeing I.E. eating more IBS friendly foods, increasing your fluid intake and exercise, introducing probiotics as a dietary supplement and reducing the amount of stress in your life. Each individual IBS sufferer will need to experiment with different methods to find which works best for them and keep informed of new trials, potential breakthroughs and new effective ways of managing the condition. A recent, independent trial run by Kings College Hospital in London, as mentioned by Dr Chris Steele during his slot on the This Morning programme, has concluded with some interesting results. It involved 186 patients with moderate to severe IBS, and over the course of 12 weeks, showed that Symprove, a natural supplement drink with live and ‘ready-to-work’ bacteria, was ‘effective in significantly reducing the severity of a range of IBS symptoms, particularly pain, constipation and diarrhoea.’ Professor Ingvar Bjamason, one of Europe’s leading gastroenterologists, has described the supplement as a ‘real breakthrough’.

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“We now have robust evidence of a treatment that can reduce the severity of a range of IBS symptoms. Because IBS is a multi-symptom condition, having a treatment that can address all areas of the disease is a major advancement.”

Symprove is available to consumers from, pharmacies and health food stores. A three-month course is recommended.

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