Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), sometimes referred to as “spastic colon”, affects a wide range of people. However, the term “spastic colon” isn’t an accurate synonym for IBS because, while it describes the increase in spontaneous contractions/muscle spasms associated with IBS, there is a much wider range of possible symptoms involved.
IBS symptoms tend to come and go over time, and can last for days, weeks or months at a time. It’s usually a lifelong problem, and research has shown that it affects women in middle age more than men.
Although IBS has no specific cause, research has shown that it is usually triggered by emotional stress, trauma and anxiety in general. Certain foods may also contribute to the onset of symptoms.
Symptoms most frequently experienced are:
1. Bloated abdomen with flatulence.
2. Abdominal cramps, due to spasms in the colon.
3. Irregular stool patterns, varying from loose stools (diarrhoea) to constipation.
4. Mucus in stools.
Sufferers may also experience other symptoms, such as:
- tiredness and a lack of energy;
- feeling sick (nausea);
- problems with urination -needing to urinate often, sudden urges to urinate, and feeling like you cannot fully empty your bladder;
- not always being able to control bowel movements (bowel incontinence).
IBS flare-ups can happen for no obvious reason. Known triggers include:
- stress and anxiety
- certain foods, such as spicy or fatty food, gas-forming foods, processed foods and gluten/wheat products.
If you experience any of the following “red flag” symptoms, with or without IBS, you should always consult a doctor :
- Abdominal pain with fever.
- Blood in stools.
- Sudden unexplainable weight loss.
- Family history of colon cancer
- Chronic constipation or diarrhoea.
Your family physician or GP will then send you for scans and a colonoscopy.
IBS can be treated in several different ways according to possible causes and lifestyle factors:
1. If stress and anxiety are involved, a psychologist or counsellor may be able to help.
2. Taking regular exercise and drinking plenty of water.
3. Medication, for example antispasmodics, a low dose of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) or tricyclic antidepressants.
4. Making dietary changes, for example eating more fibre and foods high in prebiotics and probiotics; cutting out highly processed foods, junk foods high in sugar, salt, chemical additives and simple carbohydrates; reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption.
Research in recent years has shown that the presence of certain sugars in foods (known as FODMAPS) can irritate the gut, and that a diet low in certain foods can help with this. To read more about the low FODMAP diet go here.
I myself also get flare ups of IBS when I have a sudden onset of stress/anxiety, or from a rushed day. Therefore it is so important to have enough “me time” to relax and spend time in the presence of Abba Father.