More commonly known as IBS, this is the most common gut condition and affects about one in ten people at some point in their life. It is most common among people aged between 25 and 45 but IBS can cause problems at any age. Women are more likely to be affected than men.
IBS & lactose intolerance Within a medical article for the BBC, written by Dr Patricia Macnair, people who think they may have IBS are told: ‘Make sure that you rule out lactose intolerance as a cause of your symptoms – this condition is often mistaken for IBS. Lactose intolerance can cause symptoms very similar to IBS.‘
As lactose intolerance and IBS have such similar symptoms, trying a lactose free diet is often recommended. Many medical reviews and research demonstrates that a significant number of patients with IBS experience improvement with symptoms if either avoiding lactose or taking lactase enzyme supplements.
Because there are many causes of diarrhoea that give IBS-like symptoms, in addition to lactose intolerance, you should also consider whether you may have a gastrointestinal infection, food allergy or coeliac disease.
While IBS can cause huge disruption and impact on the quality of life for those severely affected, it’s important to know that IBS is not usually linked to life-threatening diseases.
Symptoms of IBS• Abdominal pain, which usually ‘comes and goes’ – often increasing when passing stools or wind. • Bloating and wind• Diarrhoea or constipation, or episodes of both• Passing mucus when you open your bowels• A feeling of incomplete emptying of the rectum• Nausea and vomiting• Belching and heartburn• Poor appetite or feeling quickly full after eating
Other possible symptoms that aren’t related to the gut include backache, tiredness, muscle pains, headaches, and urinary or gynaecological symptoms.
About one third of those with IBS predominantly have problems with diarrhoea while another third are mostly troubled by constipation, and the remainder have both loose and hard motions, and others switch between types.
Note: passing blood is not a symptom of IBS. You should tell a doctor if you pass blood.
Causes of IBS The exact cause of IBS isn’t known. Many doctors view it these days as a disruption of the normal flow of nerve signals backwards and forwards between the gut and the brain. As a result, a combination of different factors go awry, including more frequent or stronger squeezing (contractions) of the muscular walls of your bowel, and increased sensitivity to the amount of gas in your bowel. Genetic make-up may leave you particularly predisposed to these changes. Psychological factors also have a role in triggering the symptoms, such as depression, anxiety and stress.
Symptoms may be worse after you have eaten or if you are under stress. Specific foods such as tea or coffee or fatty foods may trigger the symptoms. Antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (eg ibuprofen and diclofenac) can also make symptoms worse.
For more information on IBS visit www.nhs.uk.
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