What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, commonly known as IBS or Spastic Colon, is a chronic functional bowel disorder characterised by abdominal pain or discomfort with alterations in bowel habits. The onset and exacerbation of these symptoms are often preceded by major psychological stressors or by physical stressors (e.g. gastrointestinal infections, certain foods).

What Is the Cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

The exact cause of IBS has still not been established. Research suggests that one possible cause of IBS is a disorder of the interaction of the brain/nervous system and the digestive system. IBS often begins after a stressful life event and symptoms are frequently exacerbated by psychological stress. Coexisting psychological conditions, such as anxiety are common. Another possible cause of IBS is gastrointestinal infections, which can result in alterations in the bowel microflora, inflammation of the bowel and increased intestinal permeability. Bowel surgeries, certain foods, imbalance in gut microflora, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and genetic predisposition have also been associated with the onset of IBS. Symptoms can begin from childhood up to the approximate age of 40 years.

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What Are the Common Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Alternating bowel habits (diarrhea/constipation)
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal pain/cramping/discomfort
  • Abdominal pain/camping/discomfort that is relieved by bowel motion
  • Bowel urgency &/or incontinence
  • Mucous in stool
  • Increased flatulence
  • Digestive symptoms worse with stress
  • Onset of digestive symptoms after a stressful event or gastrointestinal infection
  • Fatigue

It is important to note that weight loss, blood in the stool or bleeding from the bowel, fever or persistent, severe abdominal discomfort are not symptoms of IBS and must be further investigated by your health care practitioner.

How is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diagnosed?

IBS is diagnosed after the exclusion of other diseases. Investigations are performed by your Naturopath and doctor to rule out other possible causes. These tests may include a Gastrointestinal Function Stool Test, breath tests for fructose malabsorption, lactose intolerance and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), colonoscopy, gastroscopy, blood tests and Functional Liver Detoxification Profile. If your digestive symptoms cannot be explained by the presence of any structural or biochemical abnormalities and have been present for more than 3 months with in a 12 month period, then a diagnosis of IBS is generally given.

Diseases with similar symptoms to Irritable Bowel Syndrome that must be excluded include:

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis)
  • Coeliac Disease
  • Hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism
  • Gastrointestinal parasites
  • Gastrointestinal bacterial infections (e.g. Clostridium difficile, Helicobacter Pylori, Klebsiella sp.)
  • Enzyme deficiency (e.g. lactase deficiency)
  • Food allergies
  • Fructose malabsorption
  • Eosinophilic gastroenteritis
  • Bowel cancer
  • Bile acid malabsorption
  • Anxiety/Panic disorder (may coexist with IBS)

How can a Naturopath help support Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

  • Exclude other possible causes of your symptoms by requesting Functional Investigations including: Gastrointestinal function stool profiles (which assess for gastrointestinal infections, digestive enzyme status, beneficial bacteria levels); breath tests for fructose malabsorption, lactose intolerance, and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO); food allergy testing; Functional Liver Detoxification Profiles
  • Offer dietary advice and educate you on which foods are commonly associated with triggering symptoms of IBS
  • Regulate your bowel habits using specific dietary recommendations and natural medicines
  • Help to alleviate/reduce your digestive symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain/discomfort, flatulence
  • Assess any nutritional deficiencies that may have resulted from chronic IBS (including zinc, B12, iron, folic acid) and help to replenish them
  • Support your nervous system and your body’s response to stress
  • Support any coexisting psychological disorders, including anxiety, panic attacks
  • Rebalance and replenish the good bacteria in your bowel
  • Support the repair of you intestinal lining and reduce inflammation in your bowel
  • Address and treat any gastrointestinal infections
  • Support your digestive enzyme levels to ensure your food is digested efficiently and completely, which may help to prevent the development of food sensitivities and reduce your digestive symptoms.

Here’s what you can expect:

1. Your Naturopath will take a thorough case history, reviewing your diet, general health and in particular, digestive function and symptoms.

2. Functional testing and other medical investigations may be recommend to check nutritional status, potential food allergens, digestive enzyme status, gastrointestinal infections and bacteria balance of the bowel.

3. Based on the above information your naturopath will advise particular dietary and lifestyle adjustments to help treat and alleviate your digestive symptoms. Specific pro & prebiotics for the bowel and nutritional and herbal medicines may also be prescribed.

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