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Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome most commonly affects people between the ages of 20 and 30 and is twice as common in women as in men. Stress and food ingestion are often the main triggers of IBS, but a change in diet or an infection can precipitate an episode.

The syndrome is not the same as Ulcerative Colitis. Colitis is an inflammation of the colon, whereas in IBS, the colon is not inflamed.
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About IBS...

It is uncertain why so many of us suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). We don't know why is happens but we can reveal some common triggers are stress and diet. IBS is becoming more and more common in this busy, modern world but there is no permanent "cure" for it. Express Chemist can provide you with unique and knowledgeable information and suggest useful tips to help you handle your bad bowels.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome all about?

Typical symptoms: Abdominal pain, spasms and cramps, bloating and flatulence, irregular bowel activity aka constipation and/or diarrhoea, nausea, lack of energy, sluggishness and lethargy. IBS is not a condition of the stomach but of the large intestine. It affects people in different ways. Some sufferers may only experience a single symptom whilst others might have all symptoms listed. Sometimes people are affected infrequently whilst others can suffer on-going symptoms. Frustratingly, there is no cure for IBS. Some people suffer the effects of IBS but do not realise they have an underlying problem. In fact, many accept the symptoms as "normal" and go on suffering in silence for years. For others, IBS can be a non-stop aggravation and can dominate their lives. Day to day life for many sufferers is ruled by their bowels. Doing simple activities or going to social events can involve stressful decision making, such as; Will there be toilets nearby? Will I embarrass myself? What can I eat that won't upset my digestion? What if my bloating is too severe? When IBS is this intense, it becomes an interference, causes stress/anxiety and even mild depression. This is because you are forced to change your life to fit round your condition.

There are a variety of treatments available at Express Chemist that can treat the symptoms of IBS (trapped wind, cramping, diarrhoea, constipation and flatulence to name the most common). These products include Colofac IBS , Buscopan IBS and Pepto-Bismol. These usually work at giving temporary relief from the associated pain and annoyances but for long term relief, the most important thing is to figure out what exactly it is that triggers your symptoms and what can be done to prevent the recurring symptoms.

What exactly can cause an IBS flare up and how can you deal with it?

In today's world, convenience food is one of the biggest problems causing havoc on people's guts! Crisps, takeaways, fizzy drinks, microwave foods, pre-prepared meals (even the "healthy-looking" ones) are not good for a sensitive gut. Refined food too, usually comes under the same bracket, such as white bread, pastries and pies, processed meat, white pasta, cakes, biscuits and sugary squash drinks. These carbohydrate-full, processed foods are too easily available to us. Most of these foods contain high sugar & salt levels, preservatives and are usually low in fibre (key to a good gut). By eating many of these foods, many experience sluggishness digestion, sleepiness, and low energy. Some may suffer bloating, intestinal spasms and bowel irregularity. These symptoms are worsened by high stress jobs, not chewing food enough times before swallowing and eating on the run.
    Firstly, why not try substituting high carb, highly "stodgy" meals with fresh ingredients rather than pre-made and, introducing larger quantities of vegetables and cut meat. If you are concerned about your kitchen skills or think 'who's got time to cook a "chef's special" each night', there are simple changes you can make that will not make a dramatic difference to your cooking routine. Have a look round the supermarkets. They often do the work for you. Frozen vegetables are pre-diced, ready to cook & store for months. Meats like chicken, fish, beef & pork are available cut or diced & in ready prepared sauces. There are cookbooks available that offer easy, quick recipes that won't take much time to prepare & cook, eg; a stir fry or grilled chicken. And of course, don't forget fresh fruit, dried fruit, whole nuts, seeds and yogurt; great for lunch time or snacking. This will provide you with lots of natural fibre, vitamins and nutrients. Also, try replacing white bread/rice/pasta with the wholegrain varieties. They nutritionally better for you, they sustain you for longer and release energy slowly throughout the day!

    Give the food you eat some time and enjoy it. Eating your food too quickly creates extra work on your digestive system. Food that is gulped down and not chewed properly, gives your stomach more to do. Instead, chew your food into a proper pulp, chewing around 15 times before swallowing. Make sure your mouth is empty before you take another bite. Also, rushing food causes indigestion & heart burn.

    Sit when you eat. Eating whilst travelling is bad for your digestion. Ideally you should sit down to eat. It is also best to sit up at a table, rather than slouch over your lap. By sitting upright, your stomach and bowls have more room to move to food around in your gut and digest it properly.
Food intolerances:
What we eat may not be tolerated by the body. The way today's foods are commonly grown, treated, processed and supplied to us, intolerances to particular food stuffs is becoming more common each year and is now greatly recognised. A food intolerance and food allergies are not the same. With a food allergy, only a small amount of a particular food/ingredient (whether eaten, inhaled or touched) can cause a quick and unpleasant reaction (such as a rash, breathing difficulties, nausea/sickness or diarrhoea). A food intolerance is not as easy to detect. Often, small amounts of something may be eaten without effect but too much might cause unpleasant symptoms within 24 hours (such as pains, bloating constipation).

When an intolerance or allergy has IBS-type symptoms, a different type of diet change may need applying. The two most common food intolerances/allergies are gluten (mainly from wheat - found in pasta, cakes, bread) and lactose (found in milk, cheese, cream). You can go to your GP to make certain it's sensitivity to food you have and not something else.

In most supermarkets today, you can find alternatives such as gluten free versions of breads, pasta, cakes and biscuits and milk substitutes like soya milk and rice milk.
    If you think that something you eat is affecting your digestion, start by writing a daily food diary. Create a chart of what you eat morning, noon and night. In a second column, write additional notes about how you are feeling and how your stomach/guts are behaving. You could symbolise your notes with a tick and a cross, to make your findings easier to scan through. Your digestive patterns might be quite revealing! You might be able to identify foods that are causing a reaction. It might take several months to gather your data but it should be worth it.

    Think about what else might upset your digestion...
    - Acidic foods such as fruit (incl. tomatoes, onions and orange juice)?
    - Rich foods such as cream, fried food, spicy food, red wine, red meat?
    - Additives like sugar/artificial sweetener, preservatives, emulsifiers?
    - Stimulants like alcohol, caffeine?
    - Certain types of medication? (Ask your doctor)

    If your detective work suggests a certain type of food worsens your IBS, cut it out for 3-4 weeks and see what happens!

    Remember! Whenever you change your diet, give it time. Persistence is important. You may have to wait a month before you detect any changes in your bowel health. Sometimes, your intestinal lining may have become raw and sensitive due to one factor - if it's because of food and you have cut it from your diet, give your gut time to heal and readjust.
    (If you have concerns about changing your eating habits or nutritional queries, speak to your doctor first.)
Stress and anxiety affects your health. It can be anything from; busy jobs, exams, too much to do, personal or home troubles, emotional trauma or bereavement. Prolonged or traumatic stress can have a negative effect on our bodies as well as our mental state, even subconsciously. Stress can cause
migraines, insomnia, skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema and IBS. It is unlikely that the gastrointestinal discomfort caused by IBS will not ease off if you are under constant worry, nervousness, distress, anger or upset. If you are able to, ask others for help or advice or even a shoulder to cry on if you need it. Try to increase your levels of Serotonin and endorphins to make yourself feel calmer and positive. Soak into a nice bubble bath, go for a jog, watch a funny film of have a giggle with your friends. We have a category about stress with tonics and supplements that could help too Click here to look...
  • Gender:
    Irritable Bowel Syndrome seems to be more common in women than in men. It is apparent that hormonal changes in the body may effect the way in which the bowels behave. Some ladies find that their bowel becomes irregular before and during their period and bloating may also occur. If your IBS is hormonally triggered, it is harder to treat. But there are products on the market that can help deal with the aggravation, discomfort and irregular bowel activity. Buscopan IBS is a little tablet that can be taken for both menstrual and IBS spasms and cramping. Imodium is a range of treatments formulated to give on the spot relief from diarrhoea and if you are suffering with constipation, there are plenty of products out there that are designed to make poo easier to pass such as Milk of Magnesia or Senokot. Lastly, I would highly recommend Silicea Liquid which is a good anti-inflammatory and preventative measure.

  • Infection:
    It is believed that IBS may be triggered after having a bacterial infection in the gut, such as gastric flu (gastroenteritis). If the gut lining is sensitive to particular irritants, then a "tummy bug" may be likely to start an IBS reaction after the bug has cleared though your system. This is why "friendly bacteria" is a hot topic at the moment. Probiotics balance out the bad bugs and germs in your gut But you are best taking a friendly bacteria tablet rather then eating a live yoghurt as the live bacteria in the yoghurt may not survive the acid in the stomach. It is also important to take a pre-biotic before pro-biotics, to create the correct digestive environment for the good bacteria to thrive.
  • What actually happens in your gut?

    It might be helpful to you to understand what's going on inside your gut. It might help you figure out what your bowels are up to and also to think about the best action to take to treat your condition.
    All the action is happening in your intestines (the colon/large intestine mostly). Your intestines are really long and circle around your organs in the lower part of your torso and past your tummy (This is why IBS might sometimes feel like stomach ache).

    The colon (large intestine) is controlled by muscular contractions, nerves and hormones. If you experience cramping pains in the lower abdomen, this is caused by the muscles around the colon becoming spasmodic. Usually these muscles help to move waste along the intestines at a steady rate but it seems with IBS sufferers, these movements can become uncontrolled, causing the pain. In response to this, if the contents in the colon are passed through irregularly. When passed to quickly, fluids are not absorbed in time by the intestine lining which means your stool remains more watery resulting in diarrhoea. Similarly, if the colon movement slows right down, the intestinal lining absorbs too much liquid and solid waste becomes lumpy, dry and hard to pass causing constipation.

    If you experience regular bloating, this is from gas expanding in the colon, not in your stomach. Gas build-up in the stomach will make you burp and is usually caused from indigestion or heartburn. Gas in the gut is formed from digestive processes and bacteria and is usually released by passing wind throughout the day. However, when our digestive system is aggravated, gas production can be increased which causes uncomfortable bloating and frequent passing of wind. Gas can also accumulate by gulping in air. This happens when you eat too quickly or sometimes when you feel nervous or anxious.

    Treating the symptoms:

    To treat cramps and abdominal pain you need to take an anti-spasmodic, to relax the muscles surrounding the colon and slow down movement in the digestive tract. Anti-spasmodic medicines include: Spasmonol, which contains alverine citrate, Colfolac IBS which contains mebeverine and Buscopan IBS which contains hyoscine which alleviates the colicky pain of this smooth muscle spasm. Peppermint is a natural anti-spasmodic and it can also alleviate the feeling of sickness. A well known IBS medicine containing peppermint is Colpermin which you can find along side our other Peppermint tinctures and supplements.

    To treat bloating, you need an ingredient that will suppress and help control reactions in your digestive system that causes gas build up. Bloating can be caused by many things: Over eating, eating on the go, food intolerances, anxiety, gas producing foods (e.g. beans and fizzy drinks), irregular bowel activity and menstruation (to name a few). Helpful treatments for bloating and flatulence include Wind-Settlers, a capsule containing activated dimeticone and Rennie Deflatine which contains Calcium carbonate, Simethicone and Magnesium carbonate. These both cover flatulence, bloating, indigestion and trapped wind. If you find that you quickly become bloated and queasy after a meal, Motillium 10 is specifically designed to be taken before a meal to prevent the feeling of fullness and sickness. You may find that taking a herbal tonic each day can also help reduce the symptoms. Natural products like Turmeric, Bioforce Cynara and Frangula Complex have qualities that help with digestion and food absorption which therefore reduces gas.

    To treat diarrhoea, try taking Imodium. It works by slowing down bowel movement which prevents frequent, runny stool movements. The Imodium Plus Capsules have an extra ingredient that helps to reduce the gas bubbles in the gut to reduce trapped wind. After a severe or prolonged case of diarrhoea, it is important to ensure you replace the salts and minerals lost by taking Dioralyte Sachets. If you know you have a sensitive gut and are prone to tummy bugs, you may benefit from taking pre-biotics and pro-biotics. Pre-biotics are formulated to help to balance out the environment in your gut and aid digestion. Pro-biotics or "friendly bacteria" are micro-organisms that thrive in the gut and keep nasty, gas-producing bacteria at bay. These come in capsules and sachets. I would recommend that if you want to try out friendly bacteria, start by taking a Pre-biotic for a few weeks first as an act of preparation so the Pro-biotics can then thrive in the gut. For those of you who swing between constipation and diarrhoea, you may benefit from drinking Soluble Fibre. It offers little nutritional value but plays an important part in digestive health. Soluble Fibre swells in water which bulks up the stool. This in turn regulates the bowels movements, reducing the likeliness of abdominal discomfort.

    There are various methods of treating constipation, one being Soluble Fibre Drinks (as mentioned above). Another method is taking gentle laxatives such as Senna or even Aloe Vera which stimulates the bowel. Taking products such as Dulphalac or Milk of Magnesia are designed to hydrate hard, dry stools to make them softer to pass. Lastly, suppositories are chosen by those who want to administer medicine directly to the bowel. Dulcolax Suppositories help to stimulate the bowel's movement and Glycerin Suppositories to soften the poo and make it easier to pass.

    Lastly, there may be ways of helping to prevent the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Traditional Herbal remedies, minerals and enzymes aid digestion. For example, Molkosan Vitality is an excellent gut-balancing prebiotic that can be taken along with Silicea Liquid, a mineral that is known for its healing properties - superb in calming an inflamed, delicate digestive system. By improving your digestive health, you will inevitably increase your energy levels and boost your immunity to germs. This'll result in a greater feeling of well-being and a healthy glow.

    With patience and persistence and the above tips in the back of your mind, you can should start to learn what your gut can tolerate and what it can't. Hopefully, you will find out how to put an end to the way IBS effects you and take control of your life once more. Good luck!