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Do you suffer with gut symptoms including bloating, abdominal pain and gas? If that sounds like you, read on to learn if your symptoms may be IBS.

Around 1 in 5 people experience symptoms of IBS at some stage of their life1, with women 1.5 times more likely to experience IBS symptoms2,3.

For some people these symptoms are simply annoying but for 25% of people with IBS their gut symptoms can be debilitating or get in the way of their daily life4.

IBS Symptoms

IBS symptoms can include

  • abdominal pain or cramping that is often relieved by passing wind or faeces
  • alternating diarrhoea and constipation
  • a sensation that the bowels are not fully emptied after passing a motion
  • abdominal bloating
  • mucus present in the stools
  • nausea

 

For some people their IBS symptoms interrupt their work day, with frequent bathroom visits, or pain which distracts them from working efficiently.

For others, IBS gets in the way of their social life as they avoid going out to dinner with friends.

For some people their IBS symptoms gets in the way of building relationships, as they find it hard to be confident and create intimacy when they don’t know what their gut is going to do from one minute to the next (rumbling, smelly gas or sharp pains?)

If you ignore your IBS symptoms you may be one of the lucky ones that your symptoms disappear as quickly as they came!  However for most people ignoring your symptoms may lead to your symptoms getting worse over time. You may find that more & more foods seem to trigger pain, and it is hard to see a pattern anymore. Some people find that foods that they considered ‘safe’ later seem to aggravate their pain, which can be quite distressing!

 

But a diagnosis of IBS is not a life-sentence. When you work with a gut-focused dietitian you can learn

  • What foods are triggering your gut symptoms so you know what to eat and feel more in control
  • What underlying factors are contributing to your gut symptoms, so you can address these and broaden your range of foods
  • How to improve your gut health and reduce IBS symptoms in the future
  • And most importantly, you can get back to enjoying your life again

How is IBS diagnosed?

IBS can be complex to diagnose, as rather than being a single disease with a simple test to diagnose it, it is more a diagnosis of exclusion. To confirm that your gut symptoms are IBS your doctor needs to rule out other medical issues that may contribute to the same symptoms, including (but not limited to)

  • Coeliac Disease
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (eg Crohns Disease, Colitis)
  • Parasites or Pathogenic Bacteria
  • Bowel Cancer
  • Endocrine disorders eg Thyroid

Depending on your symptoms and your history, your GP or Gastroenterologist may recommend ‘scopes’ to investigate and rule out some of these conditions. In each case a camera is inserted into your digestive tract for a closer view to detect any changes in the mucosal tissue lining your gut:

  • Colonoscopy – A colonoscope is a tiny camera on a long flexible tube that is used to examine the entire length of your large bowel
  • Endoscopy, also known as a Gastroscopy – a tiny camera on a long flexible tube that is used to examine your oesophagus, stomach and upper part of your Small Intestine

These tests are not essential to diagnose IBS, your doctor may be able to diagnose IBS based on your symptoms alone.

Some people put off seeing a dietitian for support for their symptoms as they haven’t yet got an official diagnosis from the GP. Please don’t let that be you! Our gut-focused dietitians can get you started with some strategies to help improve your symptoms and will guide you to your GP if you need further testing.

 

IBS management

Then, once you have a diagnosis, what’s the next step?

When I first began supporting people with IBS 20years ago it was common for doctors to tell people that changing what you eat was a waste of time, as food didn’t affect IBS! Fortunately the science and awareness has changed so much since then, and now many doctors tell their patients to follow a low FODMAPs diet to reduce their symptoms of IBS. It is great to see so many people who reduce their symptoms with this 1 simple step, however it leaves us with 2 problems

  • A low FODMAP diet is only 1 step in reducing gut symptoms, and helps 3 out of 4 people with IBS symptoms. But what if you are the fourth person, for whom a low FODMAP diet doesn’t improve your IBS symptoms? Don’t give up! Our Gut-focused dietitians can help you identify what other factors may be playing a role in your gut symptoms
  • A low FODMAP diet should NOT be a diet for life as it will impact your microbiome and your overall health, but many people feel trapped on a low FODMAP diet as they get symptoms if they try to eat FODMAPs foods once again

 

Does this sound familiar to you? If you are stuck on the IBS rollercoaster with symptoms that haven’t settled with a low FODMAP diet or stuck on a restrictive low FODMAP diet, please reach out to learn how our gut-focused dietitians can help you.

1. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs

2. American College of Gastroenterology Task Force on Irritable Bowel, An evidence-based position statement on the management of irritable bowel syndrome. Am J Gastroenterol, 2009. 104 Suppl 1: p. S1-35

3. Andrews, E.B et al., Prevalence and demographics of irritable bowel syndrome: results from a large web-based survey. Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 2005. 22(10): p. 935-42

4. Drossman DA et al, International survey of patients with IBS: symptom features and their severity, health status, treatments, and risk taking to achieve clinical benefit. J Clin Gastroenterol 2009;43:541-50.

 

 

Liz Beavis

Author Liz Beavis

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