Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a common problem in Ireland - it is thought to affect about 1 in 5 people. It is basically a problem with the way that food moves through your bowel – it can move too quickly or too slowly or there can be a range of other problems like bloating and cramps. The symptoms can vary from one person to another and they can come and go.For this reason people often have IBS for several years before they seek help or get diagnosed.
What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
IBS has quite a few causes which is why it can be difficult for people to manage – the different causes of IBS all have different treatments. Lack of fibre is a major cause of constipation-type IBS. 79% of Irish people do not eat enough fibre. If you do not eat enough fibre, then it takes longer for food to move through your bowel and this can causes bloating, cramps, lack of energy and constipation.
Many people with diarrhoea-type IBS do not absorb a range of substances called FODMAPs. FODMAPs stands for ‘fructo, oligo, di & mono saccharides and polyols’. These are types of sugars and sweeteners found in a range of foods and cutting these out from your diet can really help with diarrhoea type IBS. A note of caution here: despite what you might read online, this is an extremely complex diet to follow correctly and you need to see a dietitian who has trained specifically in FODMAPs. Do not be tempted to try this on your own!
Intolerance to certain foods can also cause IBS. Lactose intolerance can be a cause as well as intolerance to gluten.
How can I get tested for IBS?
It is really important to always start with your GP. Many of the symptoms of IBS can be caused by other conditions so you do need to rule them out. You especially need to be tested for coeliac disease before you make any dietary changes (such as cutting out gluten). You need to rule out problems like Crohn’s disease and colitis as well.
How is IBS Treated?
Once you have been diagnosed with IBS then you need to see a qualified dietitian. Diet is very important for IBS and can make a real difference to the condition. However, no one diet works for everybody – it really is a case of getting advice from an expert to see what will work specifically for you. For many people changing the amount and type of fibre can solve the problem. For others an elimination diet to check for food intolerances or FODMAPs diet may be the solution.
Can Anything Else Cause IBS?
Apart from diet, some people find that stress can affect their bowel. Stress is rarely the whole cause of IBS but some people do find symptoms are worse when they are busy or stressed. Probiotics can also be helpful.
Just remember; always get diagnosed by your GP – never self-diagnose - and make sure you see a qualified dietitian for advice on how to manage your food for a healthy, happy bowel. Check out www.indi.ie or www.sedi.ie for a list of qualified dietitians near you.
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