It seems an increase in heavily processed foods, caffeine and sugar are upsetting stomachs everywhere.
One in five Australians suffer from Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a health condition that affects the function of the bowel. IBS causes uncomfortable and embarrassing symptoms.
We asked the experts at an after-hours GP for some advice on the condition.
Differentiating IBS from a food allergy or stomach bug can be tricky. The biggest difference is frequency. Those who suffer from IBS will experience symptoms more often than not, until the causes are identified and treated.
The main symptoms of IBS include:
- Discomfort or pain
The home doctor we spoke to highlighted three most common causes of IBS.
- Poor diet (including undiagnosed/untreated food intolerances)
- Hormonal changes (brought on by medication or menstruation)
According to most doctors, diet and lifestyle are the leading factors in IBS cases.
Some foods are categorised as stimulants, meaning they activate the bowl. Caffeine is one of the most commonly consumed stimulants. For this reason, IBS suffers are encouraged to avoid excessive caffeine. It is particularly important to avoid caffeine first thing in the morning, before you have had time to relieve yourself.
People often confuse diary intolerance with IBS due to the trouble a morning coffee can bring the bowl. According to the home doctor, it is more likely to be the caffeine than the lactose.
If you are experiencing IBS symptoms, pay close attention to your diet. Wholefoods that are high in fibre are essential. Try to remove heavily proceed fatty foods. Most people also need to avoid spicy foods and tomatoes, which are overly stimulating.
Stress will increase the severity of IBS symptoms. Constipation accompanied by a sore stomach is a common symptom exasperated by high levels of stress.
Medication can also lead to IBS symptoms. Check with your general practitioner (GP) to see if your medication has any bad-for-bowel side effects.
It is common for women to experience discomfort with their digestive system during their period. The contractions and extra inflammation can be a shock to a sensitive system. Mention to your GP if you suffer from IBS when discussing contraception options, as some are better than others.
If you are suffering from IBS, consult your GP for help navigating the specific causes and treatments.
Most people who experience IBS find it’s helpful to make changes to their diet and lifestyle.
Doctors may recommend changing medication, exercising more and adding supplements to improve your digestive system.
In the moment however, time is the main cure. Over-the-counter medication can help reduce symptoms.