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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common gastro-intestinal disorder reported to GPs and up to 50% of referrals to gastroenterologists are for IBS.

The Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS symptoms and can start at any age but are most common from early adulthood onwards. The prevalence of this disease is approximately10-15% of the general population, affecting females more often than males (approximate ratio 2:1).

What are the symptoms of IBS?

The most common symptoms are:

  • Constipation and/or diarrhoea

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bloating

  • Flatulence or wind

Patients suffer recurrent abdominal pain and severe bloating with diarrhoea and/or constipation. It is more common in women, especially between ages 20-40 years. Symptoms include pain low down on the left and/or right of the abdomen. There is often discomfort just below the stomach. There are usually loud bowel sounds, which can be socially embarrassing. Patients can experience nausea and suffer from flatulence. There is usually quite a dip in energy as well.

What are the causes of IBS?

The exact cause of IBS is as yet unknown. However, after an episode of bacterial gastroenteritis, one patient in 14 will develop IBS. Stress has been clinically proven to cause or worsen symptoms of IBS. Food intolerance is believed to be another cause along with the use of antibiotics.

Orthodox Medicine Treatment for IBS

There is no single treatment to tackle all symptoms of IBS. Medicines can relieve specific symptoms of IBS, depending on which is giving the most trouble.

  • Medicines called antispasmodics can relieve stomach cramps (Buscopan)

  • If constipation is a major problem, bulk laxatives (Fybogel, Regulan, Isogel, Celevac) are usually given first.

  • More powerful types known as stimulant laxatives (Senokot, Dulco-lax) are not usually recommended for IBS because they can cause cramping.

  • Fybogel mebeverine contains ispaghula husk and mebeverine. Ispaghula husk helps with constipation while mebeverine acts as an antispasmodic to relieve stomach cramps.

  • Medicines can treat gas and stomach rumbling in cases where these are a major problem. Examples are charcoal tablets and simethicone, an anti-foaming agent that disperses trapped gas in the stomach and intestine. Products that contain simethicone are Wind-eze, Windsetlers and Rennie deflatine.

  • Antidiarrhoeals such as loperamide (Imodium) can ease diarrhoea. Imodium plus also contains simethicone to ease cramps and bloating.

  • Tricyclic antidepressants are sometimes used to relieve pain in people who have not responded to other treatments.

Herbal Medical Treatment for IBS

Herbal Medicine attains a very high rate of clinical success in the treatment of IBS. It helps to:

  • Relieve the cramp (antispasmodic)

  • Reduce inflammation in the colon (anti-inflammatory)

  • Repair the mucus membrane, which lines the colon

  • In cases of constipation, gentle laxative herbs are given to increase bile flow and assist bowel movement

  • In cases of diarrhoea, herbal medicine is given to slow down the transit time through the bowel so that more water can be taken out

  • Relieve flatulence/wind

  • Treat stress and/or anxiety, if this is felt to be a causative factor

  • Identify food intolerances

  • Restore bowel “good” bacteria after antibiotic

As mentioned earlier, stress is very significant in the causation and the aggravation of IBS. It is therefore important to adjust lifestyle to allow for relaxation and to support the nervous system with Herbal Medicine.

Medical Herbalists receive many GP referrals of patients, who are not happy to take drugs for symptomatic treatment only. Herbal Medicine attains a very high rate of clinical success in the treatment of IBS. This may be because the underlying problem is treated as well as the symptoms. On average, it takes around 10-14 days to start noticing an improvement and treatment continues for several months depending on the patient’s response to the medication.

When the patient is well again, they usually take just a maintenance dose of herbal medicine to keep them on an even keel and thereby help prevent another bout of IBS, particularly if they have a stressful job.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Self Help

The diet should consist of small regular meals with plenty of fibre. Drink plenty of water … at least 2L per day. Because food intolerances are so often implicated in the cause of IBS it is important to determine what these may be and avoid them. Conventional blood tests of suspected allergens will be unlikely to give positive results because many food allergies are mediated by IgG and not IgE, which is what most of the blood tests measure. The best way of testing for IBS food intolerances is by elimination diets and then gradual reintroduction of foods.

Deborah Grant BSc(Hons)Herb.Med.MNIMH

Consultant Medical Herbalist For more information go to: www.deborahgrant.co.uk

Next: Self Help For Irritable Bowel Syndrome



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