Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

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It’s a pain in the backside!

It does not, as the name suggests, affect only the bowel, but the whole digestive system. Primary symptoms can appear as diarrhoea, constipation, gastric reflux, excess wind, indigestion, stomach cramps, nausea or any combination thereof.

Unfortunately, as this syndrome (it is NOT a disease) has such wide-ranging symptoms, any non-specific digestive ailment tends to get labelled IBS, and many more serious illnesses get overlooked. The consequences of this can be devastating. I recently had a friend die of stomach cancer that was originally misdiagnosed as IBS.

The causes of the syndrome are unknown. It is very obvious that stress has an effect on the severity of attacks but whether it is causal I do not know. I do, however, firmly believe that I first developed the syndrome in my late teens when I decided that the only way for me to lose weight was to eat only one meal a day. After 10 years, combined with being a smoker, a vegetarian and being in a stressful job, I ended up being depressed, barely having the energy to crawl back into bed and taking so much time off work that I am surprised I wasn’t sacked. I think IBS is a symptom of modern life.

There is no cure. Sorry if that depresses anyone but it is true. Little help is gained by swallowing medicines and pills to combat the symptoms and effort should be made in identifying the triggers. Management of the syndrome can be achieved but the methods for this vary from person to person. I would never recommend undertaking any treatment without consulting a nutritionist at your hospital and you should avoid any diet where expensive pills are pescribed as part of the treatment. Personally, I manage my diet by excluding all brasilicas, nuts, seeds, whole grains, peas, beans and reducing my lactose intake. For the rest of my life I will have to consider the effect of what I eat before I eat it, which for a vegetarian with tomato allergies can make eating out very awkward indeed.

If you suspect you have IBS consult your doctor and insist he carries out tests to rule out other organic diseases. If he/she is unsympathetic then change your doctor. Be aware that ovarian cancer, bowel cancer and stomach cancer, amongst others, can have the same symptoms. Don’t let anyone put your life in danger by dismissing your symptoms as trivial. IBS is non-life threatening in itself but it can have a serious effect on the quality of your life if you do nothing about it.

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