IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is one of those ‘modern’ conditions that seem to carry a stigma of being a bit of a ‘made-up’ ailment for those with poor diets.
Sufferers, which account for up to one-in-five of the population, will report though that symptoms can in fact be debilitating, with nearly half having to take time off work (an average of nine days a year) and almost a quarter are too embarrassed to be intimate with their partners when symptoms hit.
Older women (1 in 3) especially experience an increase in symptoms around the time of menopause and beyond but lots of us are too scared to seek professional help, believing it to be shameful or embarrassing – so what is and how can you manage your symptoms better?
According to NHS Direct symptoms of IBS include:
- abdominal (stomach) pain and cramping, which may be relieved by having a poo
- a change in your bowel habits – such as diarrhoea, constipation, or sometimes both
- bloating and swelling of your stomach
- excessive wind (flatulence)
- occasionally experiencing an urgent need to go to the toilet
- a feeling that you have not fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
- passing mucus from your bottom
- a lack of energy (lethargy)
- feeling sick
- bladder problems (such as needing to wake up to urinate at night, experiencing an urgent need to urinate and difficulty fully emptying the bladder)
- pain during sex (dyspareunia)
These are symptoms no one wants to share in public and especially when intimate, causing much of the embarrassment around it.
The cause of IBS is not entirely understood. It is known that people with conditions like Fibromyalgia, Anxiety, Depression, ME and food intolerances are particularly susceptible.
As a result, many sufferers experience limitations on their lives. 26% struggle with exercise – critical to manage anxiety and other co-morbid conditions.
A quarter are too scared to travel on public transport and the same amount are too scared to be intimate with their partners. 20% avoid social situations and 17% have cancelled dates.
This worry can be all-consuming with secret practises increasing already existing stress and anxiety in sufferers lives. Women shared with ASDA that they worry about having complete privacy, time meals for when they can go, avoid certain foods and get concerned when they cannot access painkillers.
Anxiety and stress is a key factor in triggering IBS with almost three-quarters stating that it exacerbates their symptoms.
Alison Reid, CEO of The IBS Network comments:
“IBS affects between 10 and 20% of the population, that’s about 12 million people. The condition can mean feelings of isolation through an inability to leave the house for fear of an accident, cancelled holidays, and days off work.
Write it down
“You may discover that there are certain foods that trigger the symptoms or it could be the time of day which makes them worse, for instance when you are tired or you may find your symptoms are linked to regularly stressful aspects of your week
With this is mind, it can be worth keeping a very simple journal of times and events around symptoms. You can simply mark symbol to suggest
Be Honest When You Can
We know telling a new (or indeed any) partner that you have poo-issues is neither sexy, nor pleasant but by being honest about your IBS you remove some of the stress that will be exacerbating the condition. You don’t have to go into detail and you may be surprised by how much they may already know!
It’s also worth telling a good friend what is going on – someone who can make a noise for you in public bathrooms and excuses for you if you need to rush off in a hurry!
Look out for resistant starch
“Certain foods contain something called resistant starch which means that they resist digestion. This in turn, can cause bloating, abdominal discomfort, flatulence, trapped wind and diarrhoea.
These foods include beans such as lentils, soya and chickpeas, according to nutritionist and author Marilyn Glenville.
Ditch the morning cuppa in favour of a gentler herbal alternative. Ginger acts as an anti-spasmodic and it relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract. It is also known to reduce anxiety, which for some people can worsen gastrointestinal symptoms,” says Shona Wilkinson, Nutritionist at SuperfoodUk.com
Take your time over your meals, and don’t talk with your mouthful, as according to Marilyn this causes you to swallow excess air and lead to belching and discomfort. Chew every bite thirty times.
This aids fermentation in the digestive process but also causes you to eat less, avoiding overloading the digestive system with too much food.
Preservatives, processed meats, spicy foods and cheese are all known to cause real suffering to people with IBS – yes that pizza will be delicious, yes it will also make you poorly. Leave it alone.
Manage Pain Naturally:
Avoid Ibuprofen and Codeine during an attack, both of which can cause constipation and worsen symptoms.
Paracetamol can help but the best remedy tends to be a hot water bottle. Also, add some lavender and peppermint oil into gently warmed almond oil, massaging into the tummy in anti-clockwise circles to reduce bloating.
To mark IBS Awareness Month in April, ASDA Pharmacies, backed by The IBS Network, the national charity supporting people living with IBS, will be hosting a digestive health campaign nationwide to provide easy-to-understand advice and tips that people can conveniently take away with them whilst they’re in-store for their weekly shop. Ask at a pharmacy from the 1st – 24th April