When You Can’t Trust Your “Gut”

 

We all have stomachaches and trouble going to the bathroom once in a while, but for people with IBS, the chronic cramping and discomfort in the belly can be disabling. Though it tends to be mild in most cases, in as many as 15 % of the sufferers, this unpleasant condition can significantly impair the quality of life.

 

 

IBS is a disorder of function, which means that the bowel doesn’t work properly as it should but if your doctor tries to visualize the bowel, it’ll appear perfectly normal without any inflammation or other structural changes. In people with IBS, the intestines either squeeze too hard or not hard enough causing the food to move too quickly or too slowly through them.

Though IBS affects people of all ages and both sexes, it’s more common in young people (late adolescence or early adulthood). It is 2-3 times more common in females.

IBS is a benign condition and does not develop into a more serious disorder. 

There are four types of IBS. There is IBS with constipation (IBS-C) and IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D). Some people have an alternating pattern of constipation and diarrhea, called mixed IBS (IBS-M).  Other people don’t fit into any of these categories easily and so are called unsubtyped IBS, or IBS-U.

IBS symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain: Cramp-like pain appears periodically, usually right after a meal in the lower half of the belly that can be very intense. The pain typically subsides with bowel movement.

  • IBS Symptoms

    Altered bowel habits: One may experience constipation (mostly in women), diarrhea (mostly in men) or constipation alternating with diarrhea and may pass a different kind of stool – harder or looser than normal (pellets or flat ribbon stools).

  • Bowel movements that feel uncontrollably urgent, difficult to pass, or incomplete.

  • Clear or white mucus with the stool.

  • Bloating and Gas: In fact loads of it, aggravated with physical or mental exertion causing a belly to stick out.

Blood in the stool, fever, weight loss, and continuing pain are NOT symptoms of IBS. If you have these symptoms, see a doctor right away.

What causes it?

What causes IBS is still not clear. Some doctors think it happens when the muscles around the colon don’t work properly to move the waste along. A problem with the signals between the brain and the nerves in the gut may also play a role. Although the cause is still a mystery, some things that can raise your risk for IBS, include:

  • Infection in your intestines
  • Sensitivity to certain foods – frequent offenders being – chocolate, milk products, caffeine, large amounts of alcohol, carbonated drinks, certain vegetables and fruits or foods that lack fiber.
  • Long-term stress or emotional trauma such as a divorce, death of a loved one, exams, moving to a new city/job causing anxiety, depression or neurosis.
  • Side effect of certain antibiotics, steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) etc.
  • Women show accentuation of IBS symptoms during menstrual cycle suggesting a link with reproductive hormones.

Since it is often confused with other illnesses, to stamp your digestive problem as truly IBS, your doctor will compare your symptoms with a set of symptoms known as the Rome III Criteria. Your symptoms need to match two out of the following three features:

  • You feel better after having a bowel movement
  • There’s a change in how often you pass stool i.e. either more or less frequent than usual
  • Your stools are harder or softer than usual

The standard diagnostic guideline for IBS requires that you have these symptoms for at least 12 weeks during the past 6 months.

How is it Diagnosed?

There are no specific lab tests that can diagnose IBS.  Your doctor may inquire/run tests to rule out other conditions such as:

  • Food allergies or intolerances, such as lactose intolerance and poor dietary habits
  • Medications such as high blood pressure drugs, iron, and certain antacids
  • Infection
  • Enzyme deficiencies where the pancreas isn’t releasing enough enzymes to properly digest or break down food
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease

He or she may do some of the following tests to rule out other disease conditions before announcing that you have IBS:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to look for signs of blockage or inflammation in your intestines
  • Upper endoscopy if you have heartburn or indigestion
  • X-rays
  • Blood tests to look for anemia (too few red blood cells), thyroid problems, and signs of infection
  • Stool test for presence of blood, infections or parasites
  • Tests for lactose intolerance, gluten allergy, or celiac disease

How is IBS treated?

No single treatment works for everyone. You and your doctor will need to work together to find the right treatment plan to manage your symptoms.

Conventionally, following types of drugs are used to treat IBS:

Antispasmodics to control colon muscle spasms, but experts are unsure that these drugs help. They also have side effects, such as making you drowsy and constipated, that make them a bad choice for some people.

Anti-diarrheal drugs, such as Imodium, may help with diarrhea temporarily.

Laxatives can give short-term relief from constipation but can be habit forming if you don’t use them carefully.

Bulking agents, such as psyllium, wheat bran and corn fiber, help slow the movement of food through the digestive system and may also help relieve symptoms.

Antidepressants may also help relieve symptoms in some people but again are habit forming.

People with alternating IBS symptoms should not try to treat themselves. 

They should not take something for their constipation on their own, and then when they get diarrhea, take something for their diarrhea, and go back and forth. That can actually exacerbate the problem!

Diet and Lifestyle Changes

Although there is no particular diet to follow, you can manage your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by limiting or eliminating foods that may bring on symptoms, particularly diarrhea, gas, and bloating. 

Image from Harvard Health Publications – showing foods that are easily fermented by bad bacteria and thus hard to digest for individuals with IBS.

Make sure you don’t stop eating completely from any one food group though, without consulting a dietitian. You need to make sure you are still getting all the nutrients you need.

  • Limit how much milk or cheese you eat. 1 on 10 people with IBS are intolerant to lactose present in it. You can supplement your calcium from other foods like broccoli, spinach, turnip greens, tofu, yogurt, sardines, salmon with bones, or calcium-fortified juices and breads.
  • Don’t skip meals. Eat smaller portions more often instead of big ones. Eat slowly so as to chew properly.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water.
  • Don’t smoke. It’s the most important controllable risk factor for developing IBS.
  • Add more fiber to your diet with foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts to reduce constipation.
  • If you have gas and bloating, eating soluble fiber (such as oats) may help.
  • Reduce the amount of “resistant starch” you eat. Resistant starch isn’t digested well by your body and can cause gas and bloating. It is found in foods like cold or reheated potatoes, bread, and cereal.
  • Limit your intake of fresh fruit to 2-3 portions a day as sometimes the sugar fructose, present in fruits acts as a trigger. Avoid artificial sweeteners like sorbitol if you suffer from IBS-D.
  • Learn to relax, either by getting more exercise or by reducing stress in your life.
  • Keep a daily diary of what you eat so that you can figure out which foods bring on bouts of IBS in you!

Homoeopathy helps

Homoeopathy manages various symptoms of IBS gently, safely and effectively, without any side-effects. There are no disease specific medicines in homoeopathy. Every case calls for a detailed study of the sufferer, individually. The treatment is aimed at addressing the emotional stress, your stress coping mechanism and the consequent intestinal hypersensitivity.

It also aids in minimizing your food sensitivities and allergies.

Sulphur, Pulsatilla, Nux Vomica, Phosphorus, Lycopodium clavatum, Silicea, Argentum Nitricum, Aloes etc., are few of the many remedies used to cure your IBS. Exact treatment is determined only by an “in-depth” evaluation of each and every case. Constitutional remedies thus chosen work on the totality and help you come out of the mental and physical affects of the dysfunction.

 

 Note  ::  Homoeopathic medicines are not habit forming and once cured, you can stop taking them altogether upon your physician’s advice.