We’ve all suffered through bouts of tummy troubles from time to time, but what if those symptoms never quite go away? For many, problems such as constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, wind and diarrhoea are a frequent source of pain and embarrassment. The cause? The umbrella term is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which refers to a collection of issues relating to a disturbed digestion process.
IBS affects around a third of the population at some point in their lives and, as the condition affects twice as many women as men, it’s likely to happen to you. Here’s what you need to know about the triggers, symptoms and treatments for IBS.
What causes IBS?
Because IBS is a label for a group of unexplained symptoms that affect bowel function, there are several different theories about its cause. However, most experts agree that IBS is related to an increased sensitivity of the gut. It could be caused by a food intolerance, low levels of stomach acid or an imbalance of gut flora brought about by a course of antibiotics.
Even the way you eat could affect your digestion. Food that’s not broken down properly at the start of the digestive system (wolfing down food, rather than chewing your meals), can also knock the digestive process out of balance.
Occasionally, IBS can be triggered by a bout of gastroenteritis though it will usually clear up. If this root cause for your bloated tummy, then lessen your stress and anxieties, which can trigger chemical changes that interfere with the normal workings of your digestive system. In other words, your emotions are expressed through your gut.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of IBS are recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort, in combination with disturbed bowel habits. This could mean constipation, diarrhoea or alternating between the two. Other common symptoms include an urgent need to go to the loo, feeling like you haven’t fully emptied your bowels, and bloating caused by excess wind.
IBS sufferers may also experience symptoms in other parts of their body, such as chronic fatigue, headache, lower back pain, insomnia, sexual dysfunction and pain during vaginal intercourse.
Headaches are often caused by dehydration and a lack of B vitamins and magnesium, as sufferers aren’t able to absorb nutrients or water effectively. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for undigested food particles in your poo; these indicate your digestive enzymes and good bacteria are low, as food isn’t being broken down properly in your gut.
5 Ways to Stop Bloated Tummies
Although IBS can’t be cured, its symptoms can be reduced by removing or reducing triggers – such as certain foods – from your diet and reducing stress by altering the way you handle pressure. Supplements including probiotics can help to ease symptoms, as can changing the type and frequency of exercise you take.
1. Avoid ‘gassy’ foods (foods that are likely to cause bloating).
These tend to differ from person to person so be prepared to spend some time experimenting with your diet until you find a balance that works for you. A good place to start is FODMAPS – these are poorly absorbed sugars or sugar alcohols that are found in a variety of food and drinks.
2. Take a probiotic.
Probiotics are found to significantly reduce the severity of symptoms in patients with moderate to severe IBS.
3. Reduce stress
Do something that has a positive impact on your wellbeing by taking time to relax and unwind, for instance. Try a yoga or tai chi class or simply soak in a warm bath with a good book.
4. Chew your food properly
Slow down and use your teeth.
5. Aim to exercise regularly and moderately.
Go jogging, swimming, or walking. If you’re prone to diarrhoea, avoid high-intensity workouts that can overstimulate your gut.