Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Are your guts driving you nuts?

Then the problem may be in your head. Not in your guts.

What’s your head got to do with your guts?

Well, we are talking about stress. Stress can play havoc with your body. Stomach and intestine are very sensitive to stress. And the result is – irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS is not like other conditions. There are no definite abnormalities to find in a patient with IBS and there are no tests to confirm the diagnoses.

How do we know a person has irritable bowel syndrome?

Mainly by symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating and irregular bowel movements. And by ruling out other conditions of the gastrointestinal tract.

IBS is a complex condition that affects a person’s psychology (emotional and behavioural characteristics). A physician treating this condition must have a good understanding of the problem. He should be able to dedicate time and energy to help his IBS patients.

IBS is considered to be a functional disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. But there is high incidence of psychiatric disorders in patients with IBS – panic disorder, major depressive disorders, and phobias.

Patients have to realise that they may need psychological treatment for a physical condition. And having irritable bowel does not mean a person is mentally ill. Antidepressants and medications that inhibit anxiety have been shown to be effective in IBS. But these drugs have to be used with care.

Stress-induced anxiety can make symptoms of IBS worse. The source of stress can be internal (from within your own body) or external (from your environment). IBS patients experience higher levels of anxiety and fatigue than do healthy people.

In more severe, treatment-resistant IBS, psychotherapy has been proven to be useful. But there is no evidence to suggest that psychotherapy is beneficial in patients with mild IBS. Before psychotherapy is instituted, a physician should rule out some of the common conditions of the gastrointestinal tract – ulcers, inflammation (inflammatory bowel disease), and cancer.

Management of IBS poses a big challenge to a physician. Many drugs are available in the market for use in IBS. But none of them have proven benefits. Some of them may act as placebo. Smooth muscle relaxants tend to help relieve abdominal pain with or without relief of other symptoms of IBS. Loperamide (Imodium) is beneficial in patients who have diarrhoea as a predominant symptom.

Current treatment of IBS includes advice on high fibre low fat diet, smooth muscle relaxant, agents to stop diarrhoea or bloating and psychotherapy or psychoactive drugs to take care of depression or anxiety.

If your mind is playing games with your guts then stop and ask, “Who is playing games with my mind?” If it is your own thought process then take control of it – try exercise, laughter and meditation. If it is your environment, then get out of that environment. Create your own environment of happiness and relaxation. It can be done, if you have the desire and willingness to accept change.

Remember, if you take care of ELMOS (exercise, laughter, meditation, organic healthy food, stress management) then ELMOS will take care of you and your IBS!

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