April is IBS Awareness Month

Don’t Suffer Alone

April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month. IBS is a fairly common digestive disorder that affects upto 20% of people. It causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, wind, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and fatigue. Many people suffer in silence with IBS because they don’t realize that their symptoms are a medically recognized disorder nor that there is medical treatment that can help alleviate their symptoms. If you think you may have IBS, please see a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.

Diagnosing and Treating IBS

There is no test for IBS so please see a doctor if you suspect you may have it. Your doctor may need to rule out other conditions such as coeliac disease or bowel cancer before you are given a diagnosis of IBS. You will then work together on a treatment plan that best fits your needs. There’s no single diet or medicine that works for all IBS sufferers. But symptoms can be managed through medication, changes to your lifestyle and diet. The exact cause of IBS is unknown but certain foods, food poisoning and stress are common triggers.

Dietary Management of IBS

A diet low in FODMAPs (“a Low FODMAP Diet”) has shown promising results in the research and is now internationally recognized as an effective dietary therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. 50-80% of patients following the diet reporting an improvement in their symptoms.

FODMAPs are a group of fermentable carbohydrates found in a range of foods and researchers have discovered that these aggravate symptoms such as bloating, wind, abdominal pain, diarrhoea in individuals suffering from IBS. The term ‘FODMAP’ was coined by Australian researchers Susan Shepherd and Peter Gibson at Monash University in Australia and stands for;

  • Fermentable – they are fermented by the bacteria in your gut
  • Oligosaccharides – “oligo” means “few” and “saccharide” means sugar. These molecules are made up of a few sugars joined together in a chain. Fructans are a type of oligosaccharide and is a type of fibre found in wheat, onions and garlic.
  • Di-saccharides – “di” means two so there are two sugars in this molecule. Lactose (the sugar found in milk) is a disaccharide.
  • Mono-saccharides – “mono” means single and so this is a single-sugar molecule. An example is fructose (a sugar commonly found in fruit and fruit juice)
  • And
  • Polyols – these are sugar alcohols commonly used as sweeteners in diet products but also found naturally in some fruits and vegetables e.g. Xylitol.

A Specialist IBS Diet

The low FODMAP Diet is not for the faint hearted and should only be done under the supervision of a dietitian with training in the Low FODMAP diet. It is difficult to cut down on so many foods, and still eat a nutritionally balanced diet without receiving support from a registered nutrition professional. A FODMAP dietitian can guide you through the full elimination and re-challenge process.

Take Away Message

If you think you may have IBS, be reassured that you are not alone and there are health professionals that can help you with the diagnosis and management of this condition.