"Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the name given to a longstanding illness consisting of frequent abdominal discomfort and bowel symptoms that cannot be explained by any other disease."
[source IBS network.org]
There are many triggers for IBS episodes and although some are common to all people, others are very specific to individuals. I believe that after receiving a diagnosis, the most important thing you can do, is identify your triggers.
Although I have considered myself as having a sensitive stomach for most of my life, I was not diagnosed with IBS until about 5 years ago. Finding and avoiding triggers has been a part of my life for each day of those 5 years.
IBS suffers can experience a range of symptoms. The condition can be broken into subsets of IBS-C or IBS-D, the suffix letter being constipation or diarrhea. Very lucky people like me have IBS C&D.
Along with sudden onset bowel movements, most sufferers have abdominal pain of a similar intensity to a stitch, generally in the left side just behind the belt line. This stitch like pain can last all day.
What's happening inside
The last section of the intestines. the colon, is a muscle tube that pulsates in a wave like fashion. Initially it is easy to think that eating a trigger food, such as raw onion, results in an urgent visit to the toilet, because the food is going "straight through the system" In reality the onion entering the stomach triggers a spasm affect lower in the colon, which can make it move previous meals rapidly, diarrhea, or cause the colon to freeze, again painful but resulting in constipation. The sigmoid colon is where most pain occurs.
The process of diagnosis is actually more ruling out other potential problems. For me the final indicator was a colonoscopy. The nurse who did my prep, reassuringly told me that most people don't need a sedative for the procedure as it doesn't hurt, then tagged on "unless you have IBS and then you may feel significant discomfort". I remembered those words during the procedure, as I was bent double in pain, begging for a bowl as I felt sick and with a nurse pinning me down to stop me moving. The procedure was cut short with the doctor saying "It's IBS"
As I wrote earlier the daily life of a sufferer is finding and avoiding, or at least coping with, triggers. Medication available is in the form of antispasmodic tablets. I now resort to taking the tablets only when I have sustained painful episodes.
My eating habits are now very predictable. Those that know me well think I am really boring, always ordering the same meals in restaurants. The reality is, it's safer to stick to what you know than risk the effects whilst out.
Different for everyone, but here are some of mine
Onions especially, raw on a salad, or fried onion rings.
Spicy food, hot curries and seasonings.
Too much bread.
Non soluble roughage such as bran and rye.
Excessive amounts of red meat.
Too many vegetables.
Green leaf salads, rocket, kale etc.
Just eating a meal prepared in a different way than I am use to.
In addition to food triggers, stress can cause episodes too, including.
Interviews, tests, worrying about other illness's, doctors appointments.
Public speaking or standing in front of people to teach.
The worst and most ironic situation is fear of not being neat a toilet. This last trigger can be debilitating and self fulfilling if you let it!
The IBS network produces cards you can keep in your wallet for emergencies. IBS sufferers also qualify for a RADAR key to access locked toilets.
Good food and habits.
Soluble roughage such as porridge and boiled rice.
Eating porridge every morning changed my life for the better.
Swapping battered fish and chips for pan fried fish fillet and rice also had a great affect.
Stick to foods you know and trust, unless you feel the enjoyment of a meal outweighs the consequences.
Regular exercise such as running helps digestion.
The stress related triggers are harder to manage. These are best done with relaxation and breathing techniques or if all else fails, go to the toilet twice before the event starts !!
If you or someone you know has IBS its not something that is easy to speak about, but that is just because we don't speak about it enough.
More information can be found on the website of the IBS Network