Irritable Bowel Syndrome is one of those common complaints nobody ever talks about. Studies show that it affects up to 30 % of the UK population. In the USA it rivals the common cold for the major cause of absenteeism in industry. Technically IBS is a functional disorder of the gut where the normal movement of the gut is hurried along or spasms occur. The main symptoms are diarrhoea -constipation – variable bowel habit -alternating diarrhoea and constipation -colicky abdominal pain, often relieved by passing wind or stools – bloating. Less frequently there may also be -heartburn – tiredness – back pain and rumbling in the tummy.
There is no organic cause for IBS but that doesn’t mean it is all in the mind. IBS may be worse at times of stress. It is not hereditary but it may run in families perhaps because of a dietary or environmental link. It may be constitutional, meaning you have extra-sensitive gut muscles, or an overreaction to certain foods and chemicals. Women may find IBS worse after a period or after the menopause pointing to a link with oestrogen production. An estimated 25% of IBS cases are triggered by a bout of gastro-enteritis or food poisoning. IBS can be made worse with certain drugs, such as long-term antibiotics, which kill off the normal bacteria in the gut, codeine, laxatives and alcohol. Diagnosis can be a problem because symptoms vary. IBS is a disease of exclusion – in other words if you can rule out all other possibilities IBS is what you are left with.
Treatment is aimed at alleviating the symptoms and the distress they produce. Reassurance and medical review help the patient to realise that although IBS is life- long it is not life threatening. Life-style changes such as reducing caffeine, alcohol and smoking all help. Diet can help if it’s a high fibre one but the overuse of laxatives can make the situation worse. Treatment with connective tissue manipulation helps to reduce the tension around the gut, allowing the normal passage of stools through the system and more normal function to be restored. See Connective Tissue Manipulation.