Life nowadays can get super stressful. You spend long hours slogging at work, eat takeout food more often than not, never seem to get enough sleep and you’re spending more and more time with devices.
Gone are the days of being carefree and coming home to a hearty home-cooked meal packed with fresh, nutritious ingredients.
With so many stressors in your life, you may simply brush off symptoms like chronic abdominal discomfort or pain, bloating, constipation or loose stool – attributing them to something you ate or drank or the fact that you didn’t get enough rest.
However, if these symptoms keep recurring, you might in fact be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
IBS is common among Malaysians, but not many are aware of this condition, or even that they are suffering from it. Most people prefer to remain ignorant or apathetic, content to just put up with the occasional “stomach or tummy ache” and rely on conventional remedies.
It is estimated that 10%-20% of people around the world suffer from IBS. In Malaysia, the data is limited, but a number of surveys have recorded a prevalence that ranges between 10%-16%. This means that up to one in six people in Malaysia may be suffering in silence without realising what is afflicting them.
IBS is a collection of gastrointestinal symptoms that occur without any clear and detectable physical reasons. The main symptoms are abdominal pain and altered bowel habits, along with bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhoea and constipation.
IBS can be divided into several subtypes: IBS with predominant constipation (IBS-C); IBS with predominant diarrhoea (IBS-D); IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M); IBS unsubtyped (IBS-U). Different types have different combinations of symptoms suffered by patients.
Due to its non-specific symptoms, IBS can be misdiagnosed with other conditions. Fever, weight loss, continuous pain or bloody stool are not considered symptoms of IBS and could point to other problems. Therefore, a proper investigation by a healthcare professional is necessary to confirm IBS.
Knowing what triggers IBS is important in managing the symptoms. The trigger may be different for everyone, so it is good if you can keep track of triggers and learn to avoid them.
♦ Dietary triggers for IBS-C: Refined grains, processed foods, coffee, carbonated drinks, alcohol, high-protein diets, dairy products.
♦ Dietary triggers for IBS-D: Too much fibre, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, fructose, sorbitol, carbonated drinks, large meals, fried and fatty foods, dairy products, wheat.
♦ Drug triggers: Antibiotics, some antidepressants, medicine containing sorbitol.
♦ Stress and anxiety trigger.
♦ Menstrual trigger.
♦ Other triggers: Some particular food for certain IBS patients, eating too quickly or while distracted, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, etc.
Effect On Your Life
IBS may not be life threatening, but it can definitely affect your quality of life. The symptoms may arise unexpectedly and can interrupt daily routines, including work and travel. It can also affect the overall quality of life.
The first step in dealing with IBS is to recognise and diagnose you have it. Knowing your problem will help you find ways to resolve or at least manage it. If you suspect you have IBS, it is urgent to seek help and advice from a healthcare professional.
Did You Know?
Today, researchers have come up with various strategies to deal with IBS. These include special diets, medicines, therapy, and other alternatives. One promising avenue is probiotics.
A study performed by the Gut Research Group at the Pusat Perubatan Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 2018 found that daily consumption of cultured milk drinks, containing live probiotic cultures Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus paracasei, by IBS-C patients resulted in improvements of constipation symptoms, intestinal transit time and faecal pH.