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April 19 is World IBS Day. More than a tenth of the adult population is suffering from and show symptoms of IBS. So how can an international “World IBS Day” benefit Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferers? A few years ago, this would be just an ordinary day like most. But in recent times, discussions about Irritable Bowel Syndrome have been brought out in the open and quite rapidly IBS has become a global subject.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome defined

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common, long-term gastrointestinal (GI) illness, chiefly affecting the large intestine. It is a functional disorder; all the organs are present and complete as they should be, but are not functioning properly. IBS is usually characterised by pain or discomfort of the abdomen and problems with bowel habits.

The symptoms presenting include persistent discomfort, irregular frequencies of bowel movement of varying kinds of consistencies, bloating, or wind/gas. These recurring symptoms can last for days and extend for months or years if unchecked – or if people are unaware of what triggered their IBS, plus the symptoms can alternate or occur simultaneously.

About one in every five Australians show the troublesome symptoms of IBS at one time or another. It is estimated that about 15 percent of the Australian population suffer from IBS – and it’s more prevalent in women than men. It can affect people of all ages and does not discriminate between young and old.

Although most IBS cases are adults below the age of 50, older adults may suffer from it as well. Stress alone does not cause IBS but is known to trigger and worsen IBS symptoms. The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but some flare-ups can be avoided and managed once triggers are identified. A medical professional’s help is needed to diagnose and educate a patient more about IBS triggers and such.

This disorder can be inconvenient to downright burdensome. It significantly diminishes the quality of life for those suffering from it as the symptoms vary and can be present separately, alternately, or in unison. It can be very frustrating and embarrassing. There is reason to believe that there are far more undiagnosed cases of IBS since this is a somewhat flustering condition.

In a society where an upset stomach is usually a contrived excuse from having to show up somewhere and poo/stool/bowel is either a laughing or extremely awkward topic, people avoid bringing up or talking about it unless they really have to. So much so that people with milder symptoms or those who feel it is not worth going to the ER usually suffer in silence.

This is partly why there is a need for more awareness and why in 1997, the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders or IFFGD made April “IBS Awareness Month”. This is to help and inform silently-suffering individuals that their condition is a medically recognised illness. That they do not need to just “suck it up” – they can get better. That their symptoms can be managed and there are ways to minimise and even eliminate flare-ups.

Symptoms of IBS

The symptom of this condition includes, but is not limited to:

Constipation – it occurs when bowel movement becomes less frequent than what is normal (once or twice a day) to less than three movements per week.

Diarrhea – watery and loose bowel movement occurring frequently (three to more times a day).

Abdominal pain and cramps – continuous pain that occurs from the torso and chest to lower back and pelvis, which can range from uncomfortable to debilitating pain. This pain might feel like your gut is seriously damaged but there is no such tear or rupture. It just feels like it. IBS does not cause cancer or any serious disease or injure the large intestine. The gut and brain work together to properly digest food. When signals and nerves get distorted or do not work together, tension builds and can lead to pain and cramping.

Food intolerance – this is different from allergies. Food intolerance is a condition of having difficulty digesting food, resulting in a disagreeable internal reaction. Bloating and constipation can be a couple of unpleasant results.

Gas and Bloating – People suffering from IBS have a number of symptoms, but the more common of these symptoms is the gas or wind and bloating. When trigger foods and drinks are consumed, these symptoms become present and can last for days in varying intensity.

It couldn’t be that bad, could it?

From discomfort to persistent day-to-day disruptions, living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be agitative and painful. And embarrassing. A heavy tummy feeling can make someone lose focus. The sudden passing of gas and bouts of diarrhea can have abject reactions in the daily life of an IBS sufferer.

There is no determined cause for IBS. As there is no missing or damaged part, it follows that it should perform as normal. Only it doesn’t. Specialists in the field suspect genetics and nutritional foundations and childhood experiences lead to the development of IBS. The severity of symptoms is different for each one and some point to overactivity and sensitivity of intestinal nerves. Others allude to inharmonious digestion as the culprit.

What triggers IBS?

Without the help of professional, diagnosing IBS can be difficult as the triggers can be certain foods and drinks taken without visual allergic reaction (redness, itchiness, hives and swelling) but it does cause difficult digestion and an unpleasant reaction. A specialist will normally take into account the present symptoms and do tests to exclude other ailments. They have criteria and processes that will help determine if that person has IBS.

IBS is not communicable nor hereditary. It can develop after bouts of gastroenteritis episodes. More women than men have IBS and hormonal changes are among known triggers.

Once diagnosed, the doctor can then recommend treatment to relieve symptoms and notations of what to avoid and modify to minimise IBS episodes and recurrences. They can suggest food and certain diets to make them mindful of what they eat. Typically, a person with IBS should be wary of food high in FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) like those containing wheat, rye, apples, beans, dairy, garlic, cabbage and some artificial sweeteners. A dietitian’s help may be needed to specifically determine which foods to avoid and which are safe for consumption.

Awareness Helps Individuals Unite

Dedicating a day or even a month for IBS like World IBS day is one way of making people aware of the prevalence of IBS. This, in turn, will raise awareness – for those suffering in silence – that there may be solutions to their condition. That what they are experiencing is a legitimate disorder that needs to be addressed so they can start living with some semblance of normalcy.