Irritable bowel syndrome comprises of a constellation of symptoms related to your bowel habits. It is a chronic condition of the large intestine in which the food moves either too slowly or more rapidly. The most distressing element of this disease is the complexity in recognizing a specific contributing factor for it.

Diagnosing this illness can also prove to be a tedious task in itself because of the array of symptoms it can present with. For some, IBS might prove to be a mild illness that brings no distress to their everyday life. For others, it will raise havoc resulting in being crippling as it interferes in their daily routine when they try to seek refuge from the embarrassing symptoms.

An inability to go to work regularly, missing out on important events and parties is devastating for the sufferer as their personal and professional life is hampered to a great deal. Some patients tend to harbour the belief that IBS may lead to colon cancer, Crohns disease or ulcerative colitis. These false myths and misconceptions surrounding IBS create a more terrifying situation for many.

What causes IBS?                 

Irritable bowel syndrome typically strikes below an age of 35 years predominantly in females. Although a specific cause is widely unknown, it is hypothesised to result from an intricate interplay between abnormal intestinal movements, increased sensitivity and a communication defect in the autonomic nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract. Rarely, it may occur following gastroenteritis or food allergies but there has been no proven correlation so far. Stress and changes during menstrual cycle have been reported to cause aggravation of the symptoms but are unlikely causes to the development of IBS.

How to recognise if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A definite diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome is made on criteria of exclusion based on a detailed history, physical and biochemical examination and selected tests like endoscopy and CT scan. This would enable the doctor to rule out all conditions before settling for this one. But there are a few documented symptoms that should provoke you to seek medical help. Although IBS presents with diversified presentation and severity in different individuals, the following checklist will assist you in familiarizing yourself with your condition:

  1. Abdominal pain: This forms the hallmark for diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. Abdominal cramping that is relieved by defecation forms the cardinal basis for recognizing this disease.
  2. Altered Bowel habits: This presents either as constipation, diarrhoea or as alternating bowel habits, which is a combination of the two. This is criteria is based on the frequency, consistency and amount of stool passed.
  3. Flatulence and abdominal bloating: These are the less serious presentations of the illness and are generally relieved with bowel movements.
  4. Passing mucus from the rectum: This occurs with altered bowel movements.
  5. Urge to defecate: The most common symptom of IBS is an intense urge to pass stools without being able to. It may be accompanied with cramping and when relieved followed by a bout of diarrhoea.

Contrary to popular belief, tar coloured or blood stained stools, vomiting, fever and weight loss are not positive symptoms of IBS but should nevertheless be reported to a doctor as they are indicators of something more serious.

How to treat IBS

There are many treatment options available for confronting with IBS but the most effective approach is a focused IBS counselling treatment whereby the patient is guided through the dos and don’ts of this illness. Many patients have already started on a subconscious self-care therapy long before they appear before a physician based on past experience of dietary aggravation of symptoms. IBS counselling therapy focuses on making the patient aware of the following measures:

  1. Diet adjustment: Since IBS is a disease focused on the digestive system; it is obvious to assume that dietary changes should run hand in hand with other treatment options. Diet should comprise of low fat and high carbohydrate food items like rice, pasta and whole grains. The individual is asked to avoid vegetables from the cruciferous family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower), legumes or soda because they have proven to aggravate bloating and flatulence. The person is advised to follow a diet plan that is supple in dietary fibre, drink ample water and take smaller meals and more frequent meals. This helps with reducing episodes of cramping and regulates effective digestion. Most patients are effectively able to manage their disease by following a regulated diet regime only. Intolerance to food items may also be a contributing factor for ‘flares’ and these food products should be avoided.
  2. Medications: Most people with IBS infrequently suffer from severe symptoms but those with long lasting problems may need prescription medication. Antispasmodics (dicyclomine, hyoscyamine) and anti-diarrhoeals may help with the symptoms.
  3. Reduction of stress and anxiety: Many counselling therapies are effective for the reduction of stress and anxiety- both contributing factors for IBS episdodes. IBS counselling may include hypnotherapy, guided visualisations, breath work and relaxation techniques.
  4. Understanding the emotional triggers: Counselling can also help reduce symptoms of IBS through raising awareness of the emotional triggers and the patterns that you create in your life that contribute to the IBS symptoms. Because IBS occurs due to such a strong connection between the mind and the gut, the part your mind plays in this issue cannot be ignored.

IBS may prove to a devastating illness that causes both emotional and physical distress. Self-help is paramount in its treatment. Therefore the timely adjustment of diet and lifestyle will help you ward away this menace from your youthful years.

If you would like to find a counsellor who works with IBS, search Australia Counselling for an Australian psychologist, social worker or counsellor in your local area or search for a counsellor that works with anxiety issues, which are closely related to IBS. Australia Counselling counsellors work in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and country areas of Australia.



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