The key to treating irritable bowel syndrome is to understand what is causing it in the first place. A change in diet and eliminating the foods that are causing gut sensitivity may be enough to alleviate your symptoms. If stress factors are your main trigger, then learning to manage the stress may also improve your digestive discomfort. It is important to find out what the underlying factor is.
Lifestyle and Diet Changes
It may be useful to keep a food diary and write down whether your symptoms are more severe or less severe with certain food. You can then start to cut down or eliminate those foods that are causing gastrointestinal upset. Similarly, it is also worth experimenting to see whether your symptoms improve by eating little and often rather than three large meals a day. You may find that you can manage your condition effectively just by changing what and how you eat.
Managing Stress & Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can be a big factor in IBS. A continual cycle of worry can unbalance the digestive system and exacerbate the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome such as abdominal cramps, urgency and diarrhoea.
Counselling therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), hypnosis and relaxation training are just some of the methods used to help manage stress and anxiety. Some people also find that alternative therapies such as acupuncture and yoga can help you feel calm and relaxed, which in turn, may help to keep IBS symptoms under control. Your GP will be able to assess whether counselling is a treatment that will be effective for you.
Acupuncture is an alternative therapy with ancient origins that dates back to nearly 2,000 years ago. In this health practice it is believed that illness and pain happen when the body’s qi or energy flow becomes blocked. Acupuncture uses fine sterile needles and inserts them into specific points in the body to release the body’s energy flow, thus restoring balance to the body. Studies have shown mixed results in Acupuncture treating IBS, however some people have found it to be a natural alternative to using conventional medicines that can sometimes cause side effects. Acupuncture can also be used to treat depression, stress and anxiety, which can have an effect on IBS.
Antispasmodic medication can help to relieve abdominal pain and cramping, especially if you pain occurs straight after eating. Your GP will be able to prescribe these for you or you can purchase an over-the-counter product such as Buscopan. Please speak to a pharmacist before purchasing to make sure this medicine is suitable for you.
Anti-motility or anti-diarrhoeals are effective at treating diarrhoea, which is common in IBS. Some of these can be bought over the counter, the most common drug is Loperamide (brand name Imodium). It is worth remembering that taking an anti-motility drug can increase pain and bloating symptoms in some people.
Some people with IBS can suffer from extreme bouts of constipation, followed by diarrhoea. To combat this you may be initially prescribed a bulking agent such a Fybogel to soften the stool and bulk up the contents making it easier to pass. These may help to regulate bowel movement. If a bulking agent doesn’t help then your GP may be able to advise on an alternate laxative to use.
Probiotics and Antibiotics
There have been some studies, which show that probiotics and antibiotics may help to balance the ‘gut flora’, which in turn can help to keep IBS symptoms under control. In basic terms, probiotics are microscopic bacteria that are found naturally in the bowel. You can usually find these as live culture yoghurts, drinks or pills. It is best to take advice from your GP or Healthcare Practitioner before starting any treatment.
If antispasmodics are not proving to be effective at relieving the pain of IBS, then you may be prescribed a low dose antidepressant. These can work in two ways, firstly they can have a direct effect on the pain and secondly they can help to alleviate any stress and anxiety experienced which can exacerbate IBS symptoms.
Further information and downloads can be found in the RESOURCES section.
Living with a bowel condition can affect you emotionally and socially; sometimes it can help to speak to others who understand your situation. The Bladder & Bowel Community Support Group is aimed at promoting discussion between members, in a supportive environment. Join the Group on Facebook.