IBS Awareness Month
Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Silent Disorder Affecting Millions Worldwide
Written by Shaynie Ashkenazi, BSc. MHumNutr. (Associate Nutritionist), Founder of FodShop, Tummy Friendly Foods Online.
This month is dedicated to raising awareness about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and the millions of day-to-day lives this chronic gastrointestinal order affects. While most of us get the odd bloating after meals, having IBS is far from feeling a bit on the sick side after eating too much.
What is IBS?
According to the ‘Rome Foundation’, the not-for-profit body which supports diagnosis & treatment of functional gastrointestinal disorders, IBS is defined as pain associated with changes in bowel habits or abdominal discomfort, that occurs at least 3 days per month during the prior 3 months. Changes in bowel habits can include symptoms related mainly to either constipation or diarrhea, but may also include an alternation between the two.
Who does IBS affect?
The estimated prevalence of IBS in Australia ranges from 15-25% and mainly occurs in adolescents and adults, most of which are female. The worldwide prevalence of IBS is similar, with more than 1 billion people worldwide suffering daily with gut issues.
Despite how common IBS is, it is vastly under-recognized and very much stigmatized when it comes to the subject of toileting habits, causing many IBS sufferers to hesitate in speaking openly about their day-to-day pain & and struggles. The social ramifications of judgement, lack of understanding in the workplace, burden on relatives & those with close relationships to the sufferer, cause issues far beyond the clinical ones, compromising relationships, productivity and rates of depression.
Despite the obvious burden, sufferers are still hesitant to consult a doctor, resulting in no definite diagnosis. The result is under-recognition, poorly treated symptoms, and one of the most common reasons for absenteeism from work or school.
What Causes IBS?
The causes of IBS are not known, but there are known risk factors for its onset, including environmental, psychosocial, and physiological components which may work together to precipitate symptoms.
Psychological factors may include stress & anxiety, while environmental factors can include genetic predisposition to react to infections, diet, and an imbalance in the gut microbiome – also known as dysbiosis. Gut inflammation, food and faecal matter movement through the gut, and the body’s response to gut disturbances may also contribute to the development of IBS.
IBS Symptom Management
There is no known cure for IBS, therefore the goal of treatment is to improve the severity and frequency of gastrointestinal symptoms, and improve quality of life. There are several therapeutic approaches to managing IBS, including dietary modification with a low FODMAP diet, prescription & over-the-counter medications, stress management, alternative medicine, and probiotics.
1. The Rome Foundation (2019). About the Rome Foundation https://theromefoundation.org/about/.
2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome.net (2016). What is IBS? https://irritablebowelsyndrome.net/what-is-ibs/