Health chiefs at NHS Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are backing IBS Awareness Month throughout April to help raise awareness of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is thought to affect up to one in five people at some point in their life. People who have symptoms of IBS are being encouraged to seek medical advice.
The symptoms for the condition vary between individuals and may affect some people more severely than others – the main symptoms tend to be bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation. The condition usually develops when patients are aged between 20 and 30 years of age and it affects twice as many women as men. Once diagnosed the condition is often life-long, although it may improve over several years.
IBS is unpredictable and patients may go for many months without a flare up. Most people have flare-ups of symptoms that last a few days. After this time, the symptoms usually improve, but may not disappear completely. In some people, the symptoms seem to be triggered by something they have had to eat or drink. Suffering from the condition does not increase the chances of developing cancer of other bowel-related conditions.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown but it is thought to be related to increased sensitivity of the gut and problems digesting food. These problems may mean that you are more sensitive to pain coming from your gut, and you may become constipated or have diarrhoea because your food passes through your gut either too slowly or too quickly.
If you experience bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation lasting more than two weeks, then it is important to see your GP in order for them to try and determine the cause. Some may find going to their GP about IBS symptoms daunting and embarrassing. Do not be afraid, you are not alone.
Although there is no cure, patients may find it helps to identify and avoid foods that trigger symptoms, alter the amount of fibre in their diet, exercise regularly and reduce stress levels. In some cases of proven IBS there are medications available over the counter and on prescription which may give some relief to symptoms.
For more information about IBS see www.nhs.uk