April is IBS Awareness Month

We have many ‘awareness’ months throughout the year, but one that is of particular interest to me is April because it’s IBS Awareness Month.  You will probably see more ‘chatter’ and ‘conversation’ on the internet, and more articles in newspapers and magazines, discussing this growing digestive and gut health epidemic.  I know ‘epidemic’ is a big word, but I feel IBS is a big problem in the Western world, and it is a growing problem, causing a financial problem for the NHS, but an even bigger issue here is the affect IBS has on quality of life, on body image, confidence, energy levels and mood.

When I started out as a natural health practitioner over 26 years ago, the term Irritable Bowel Syndrome hadn’t been ‘invented’.  Phrases like spastic colon were commonly used to describe bloating, stomach cramps and irregular bowel movements. The label of IBS didn’t appear until about 20 years ago or thereabouts. The same applies to Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, two of the most common of the diseases under the Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) category.  Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis only emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, and in 1932, only 10 cases were diagnosed. Since then Inflammatory Bowel Disease has also exploded in epidemic proportions. Interestingly, in China, Crohn’s Disease didn’t exist until about a decade ago.  Does this have some connection with countries becoming more developed and more industrialised. When this happens, diets change, more processed and ‘fast’ food becomes available, affecting the gut microbiome in a negative way, leading to irritation, inflammation and ulceration.

In the UK we have around 15 – 20% of the population diagnosed with IBS. However, this figure is a conservative one, as it only accounts for the people who have visited a GP or Gastroenterologist, and we have a statistic for.  There are tens of thousands of people that suffer with chronic bloating, painful trapped gas, constipation, diarrhoea, to name a few of the symptoms, that are hiding behind closed doors due to embarrassment and shame, afraid to seek help from their GP.  It is so important to get a proper diagnosis though as many symptoms of IBS can also be symptoms of diseases more dangerous and life-threatening.  IBS is not a life-threatening disease. It may be life-limiting, but it will not kill you, unlike bowel cancer or ovarian cancer.  It’s important to rule out these two cancers as both can cause bloating, abdominal pain and change in bowel movements. It’s also important to be tested for Coeliac Disease (allergy to gluten) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, as these can also cause bloating, abdominal pain and change in bowel movements.

One thing I always ask my clinic clients and people that contact me asking for advice about their bloating and abdominal pain is when they first noticed their symptoms, and can they remember what triggered them.  I ask them to go back to a time when they didn’t have any symptoms at all, and think what may have happened. Perhaps the bloating and constipation began after an intensive course of antibiotics for acne or a UTI. Perhaps they had a debilitating dose of food poisoning, and their gut just hasn’t been right since, or perhaps when they were at University and they lived on a diet of junk food and alcohol, they’d noticed that they were always bloated, especially after eating.  Very often you can see a pattern begin to appear.

There is no blood test, scan or x-ray to diagnose IBS.  It is a diagnosis of exclusion, and this can take some considerable time, as the GP and Gastroenterologist begins to test and x-ray to rule out the above mentioned diseases. Gynaecological disorders can also contribute to bloating, in particular endometriosis and ovarian cysts, so you can see how difficult and long-winded it can sometimes be to get a proper diagnosis of IBS. With the best will in the World, your GP and Gastroenterologist will carry out all necessary tests, but when the tests come back ‘negative’, where do you go from there.  All a GP can then do is offer you synthetic medication to help manage the IBS symptoms. Not ideal is it, as the medication does just that, treat the symptoms, and doesn’t get down to the real issue of IBS, what caused it in the first place.

It’s important though that if you have suddenly developed bloating and it doesn’t subside, or you have a change in bowel habit, from normal to constipation, or normal to diarrhoea, and there’s evidence of blood in it, please go and have a chat with your GP. It’s probably nothing serious, but always good to get checked out.

If you have been diagnosed with IBS and you need help resolving the symptoms, please contact me: linda@justfortummies.co.uk