Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common functional disorder of the gut (including the bowels). This means that whilst there is no abnormality to the structure of the gut, it doesn’t function properly. As many as 1 in 5 people develop IBS in the UK at some stage in their life. It can affect you at any age but commonly develops in teenagers and young adults. IBS is also twice as common in women as in men.
According to the NHS website “There’s a lot of evidence that psychological factors play an important role in IBS.”
This doesn’t mean that IBS is “all in the mind” – the symptoms are very real and can be extremely unpleasant. But intense emotional states, such as stress and anxiety, can trigger chemical changes that interfere with the normal workings of the sufferers digestive system.
This doesn’t just happen in people with IBS. Many people who have never had IBS can have a sudden change in bowel habits when faced with a stressful situation, such as an important exam or a job interview.
It’s also been found that many people with IBS have experienced a traumatic event, usually during their childhood, such as abuse, neglect, a serious childhood illness or bereavement.
It is possible that difficult experiences in your past, such as these, make you more sensitive to stress and the symptoms of pain and discomfort.”
Guidelines issued by NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) recommend Hypnotherapy as one of the most effective treatments for IBS.
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
- Intermittent pain or discomfort in various parts of the abdomen of varying degrees from mild to severe:
- The length of time for bouts of pain may vary
- Pain often eases when you pass stools (motions or faeces) or wind
- The pain is said to feel like colic or a spasm
- Bloating or swelling of the abdomen
- Passing more wind than usual
- Bouts of diarrhoea or constipation
- Alternate bouts of diarrhoea and constipation
- Small pellet-like stools, or watery or ‘ribbony’ stools.
- Mucus may be mixed with the stools
- You may not feel like you’re ‘finished’ after going to the toilet
- You may experience ‘urgency’, or needing the toilet very quickly
Other symptoms include:
- Muscle pains
- Feeling quickly full after eating
- Bladder symptoms (an associated irritable bladder)
Some sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome only experience occasional and mild symptoms, whereas others suffer unpleasant symptoms for long periods of time. Many people are somewhere in between, experiencing flare-ups of symptoms at various times.
Often, doctors will group people suffering from IBS into one of three categories:
- People who experience abdominal pain/discomfort with other symptoms mainly consisting of bloating and constipation
- People who experience abdominal pain/discomfort with other symptoms mainly consisting of urgency to get to the toilet and diarrhoea
- People who alternate between constipation and diarrhoea
In practice, however, many people will fall between these distinctions rather than any neat category.