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How to Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common digestive condition that patients seek help for and accounts for up to a third of visits to gastroenterologists. This condition can significantly affect the quality of life of people with the disorder. 

IBS is diagnosed by eliminating other disorders through medical testing.  In cases of IBS, there are no apparent structural or biochemical markers present. The ROME III diagnostic criteria for IBS states that a patient will have recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort for at least three days of the last three months and at least two symptoms from the following:

  • Improvement of pain with bowel movement
  • Onset associated with a change in the stool frequency
  • Onset associated with a change in the stool consistency

The causes of IBS are poorly understood and so this means that conventional treatment is targeted towards reducing the symptoms. Interestingly, it is antidepressant medications that seem to offer the most relief to IBS patients from the pharmaceutical model.  Additionally, antispasmodics and anti-diarrhoeal medications are often trialled.

There are many natural therapies that have been used traditionally for digestive conditions and some of these treatments have shown stastically significant results in clinical trials.

  • Herbal medicine and nutrition therapy do have plenty to offer a patient with IBS and this is backed by clinical trials. One of the most effective herbal remedies tested in double blind clinical trials is known as Iberogast and is a herbal formula that we prescribe often from our dispensary, with good results, to patients with upper and lower gastrointestinal disorders. A study found that Iberogast significantly reduces abdominal pain and other IBS symptoms.
  • Probiotics have also been the subject of several clinical trials and there is good evidence for their use in IBS.  They are particularly useful in patients who suffer from bloating, flatulence and abdominal pain. Probiotics enhance the gut barrier function and inhibit pathogen binding. Many probiotic strands are available, check with your practitioner as to the best one for you. In addition to supplementing with probiotics, increasing probiotic rich foods (such as yoghurt, keffir, miso, tempeh and sauerkraut) may be beneficial.
  • Fibre, particularly soluble fibre, such as psyllium husks and slippery elm are also supported by research for use in IBS, particularly where constipation is a predominant factor. Soluble fibres should be taken before meals for a greater impact on the lower digestive system. You can purchase slippery elm powder straight from our dispensary.
  • Dietary causes play a part in IBS. It is worth having your diet assessed by your practitioner to identify if there are any foods that are aggravating your system. We can also refer patients for food sensitivity testing which takes some of the guess work out of finding out which foods aggravate your symptoms and diets based on this testing have significantly reduce symptoms in clinical trials. You can read more dietary tips here.
  • One of the most important factors in treating IBS is managing stress and anxiety. Seek assistance in resolving ongoing life stresses or anxieties. Hypnosis is well supported in research for managing IBS. Additionally, choose counselling, meditation, yoga, massage and relaxation techniques to help you feel more relaxed. Acupuncture is excellent for enhancing relaxation and has been used for thousands of years for alleviating digestive pain and bowel disorders too.

The first step in managing your digestive symptoms is to get a diagnosis. If you suffer from abdominal pain and changes in your stool patterns speak to your practitioner. There are many ways IBS can be managed to suit your particular situation and our practitioners can find the right treatments in the right dosages to best help you, safely.


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