April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month
Awareness Month Topics – April 2023
April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects about 30% of Australians, making it one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders.
Although IBS does not shorten a person’s life span, it can severely impact their quality of life. There is currently no cure for IBS.
The symptoms of IBS are often misunderstood and may keep those who suffer from speaking openly about their condition with family, friends, employers, and even their healthcare providers. This April we’re taking a look at the symptoms, causes of symptom flares, and management strategies to increase public awareness and shed light on the lived experience of those impacted by IBS.
IBS is a condition of the digestive system. It can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms including:
- Recurring or chronic bouts of abdominal pain or discomfort
- Abdominal pain or discomfort in association with a change in bowel habits, such as diarrhoea, or constipation
- Other symptoms may also occur, such as bloating, gas, or urgency.
These symptoms are also common in other bowel conditions so it’s important to consult a doctor to rule out other conditions before IBS can be diagnosed.
Symptoms of IBS can be uncertain and can make participating in activities most people take for granted, such as eating out or travelling long distances, almost impossible. Symptoms can also change over time where there can be periods when symptoms get worse, as well as periods when symptoms lessen or disappear.
While the causes of IBS are often unclear, many people find it presents after an episode of gastroenteritis, food poisoning, infection, illness, or chronic stress.
Various management strategies exist for IBS. These include prescribed and over-the-counter medications, and drug-free approaches. An alternative or complementary treatment is gut-directed hypnotherapy which is gaining increasing attention for its efficacy in managing IBS symptoms alongside dietary management.
Diet and IBS
Dietary strategies are very effective in managing the symptoms of IBS. While foods which trigger symptoms are different for everyone, general dietary tips include:
- Eat more high-fibre foods, like fruit and vegetables, legumes and whole grains
- Eat less gas-producing foods which include onion, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, dried beans, and lentils
- Eat fewer foods containing lactose, such as milk, ice cream and some yoghurts
- Drink less alcohol
- Limit your intake of food and drinks which contain artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, sorbitol, and mannitol.
Some people will find their IBS symptoms improve by adopting a high fibre diet and eating more whole grains and fruit and vegetables. A more specific strategy for addressing IBS is to adopt a low-FODMAP diet for two to six weeks to help identify trigger foods.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. These are types of carbohydrate (sugar) which are not well absorbed in the small intestine.
When these carbohydrates are poorly absorbed they travel to the large intestine. There they attract water into the gut and are fermented by the gut bacteria, creating gas. The increased water can result in diarrhoea for some people. The gas resulting from fermentation can also lead to symptoms of bloating, constipation, flatulence, and pain.
Common high FODMAP foods include garlic, onion, apples, milk, mushrooms, bread, and chickpeas. By reducing your intake of high FODMAP foods, symptoms of IBS can improve within weeks.
Research has proven that following a low FODMAP diet is the most effective way of managing IBS. Three in four people see improvements in their symptoms after adopting a low FODMAP diet.
An Accredited Practising Dietitian can guide you through a series of food reintroductions which can help work out which FODMAPs and foods are triggering symptoms.
You can learn more about FODMAP foods here: fodmapfriendly.com
As mentioned earlier, see your doctor so they can rule out other bowel conditions before diagnosing you with IBS. Additionally, consult a dietitian before adopting a low FODMAP diet. They can help to identify what might be triggering your symptoms and they can also help to make sure you are still getting enough fibre and all the nutrients you need.
Sources: aboutibs.org and dietitiansaustralia.org.au
Article by: Sandy Brangan, Brangan Medical Business Consultants