Irritable Bowel Syndrome
About the Condition
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine. For most patients, IBS is a chronic condition and therefore needs to be managed long term. Others experience times when the symptoms are worse as well as times when they improve or even disappear completely. The signs and symptoms of IBS vary from person to person and often times resemble those of other diseases. This disorder is most often characterized by abdominal pain or cramping, a bloated feeling, gas, diarrhea or constipation, and mucus in the stool. Many people experience occasional signs and symptoms of this disorder throughout their lifetime, however age, gender, family history, and mental health are all risk factors for actually developing IBS. Individuals who are under age 45 are more at risk as well as females. About twice as many women compared to men have IBS. Additionally, studies have shown that individuals with a family member with IBS may be more at risk than others. Anxiety, depression and personality disorders also increase the risk for developing IBS.
Currently it’s not known exactly what causes IBS. However, a variety of factors are shown to play a role. Layers of muscle line the walls of our intestines, which contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm as they move food from the stomach through the intestinal tract and to the rectum. Patients with IBS may have stronger contractions that last longer than normal and as a result cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. Conversely, patients with IBS may have weak intestinal contractions actually slowing down the food passage leading to hard, dry stool.
Triggers for IBS symptoms vary from person to person. Foods, stress, hormones, and other illnesses are common triggers that patients experience. Several IBS patients have more severe symptoms when they eat certain foods. A wide range of foods has shown to cause implications such as chocolate, spices, fats, fruits, beans, cabbage, broccoli, milk, carbonated beverages and alcohol. Furthermore, majority of patients with IBS find that their symptoms elevate during periods of increased stress. However, while stress may aggravate symptoms it is not known to cause them. Being that women are twice as likely to have IBS, researchers have shown that hormonal changes play a role and symptoms worsen during or around times of menstrual periods.
As many as 1 in 5 American adults have signs and symptoms of IBS, however, very few seek medical attention. It’s extremely important to see a doctor if an individual is having persistent changes in bowel habits or any other signs and symptoms of IBS considering these may indicate a more serious condition. Rectal bleeding, abdominal pain that progresses or occurs at night, and weight loss are all symptoms that likely indicate a more serious condition.
Diagnosis of IBS is often a process of ruling out other conditions and depends largely on a complete medical history and physical exam. Doctors may recommend several tests or procedures during this process. Flexible sigmoidoscopies, colonoscopies, CT scans, and lower GI series are common imaging tests used to check for infection or problems with the intestine’s ability to take in nutrients from food, also known as malabsorption. Doctors also commonly perform lactose intolerance tests, breath tests, blood tests, and stool tests.
Acupuncture for IBS
Many patients suffering from IBS seek relief from acupuncture. Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach IBS on an individual, symptom-by-symptom basis. IBS is almost always considered a disharmony between the liver and the spleen. The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of substances throughout the body, which can be disrupted by emotions or stress causing stagnation of Qi or blood. TCM views the spleen as being associated with the function of digestion and transforming food into energy, which can also be disrupted. Overeating unhealthy foods, overwork, over worrying, fatigue and lack of exercise are known to weaken the spleen. As a result of a weakened spleen and the liver not flowing smoothly, the liver overacts on the spleen and can manifest as symptoms of IBS. TCM practitioners may use a range of modalities to treat this liver/spleen disharmony including acupuncture, dietary therapy and lifestyle changes. Chinese herbal formulas are another important component of IBS treatment. A group of herbs is combined to specifically address a person’s unique constitution in Chinese herbology
CranioSacral Therapy for IBS
Craniosacral therapy (CST) takes a different approach to conventional medicine for IBS in that it’s fundamentally oriented to supporting nervous system and bodily functions. CST works on the body’s subtle motions, the Tides, which are expressed with adequate strength and potency, and in illness become bound and inertial. This type of therapy is effective in bringing about relaxation of the deep connective tissue. When the body is in a sympathetic activation state, the system may need to be down regulated with exhalation still points “shifting the set point of the autonomic nervous system from fixidity in hyperarousal to a more fluid response to the environment”. Conversely, if the patient’s system is stuck in a parasympathetic hypoarousal state, an inhalation stillpoint may assist the person come out of the freeze state, and shift to a state of “sympathetic mobilization where traumatic energies can be discharged and resolved”. Overall the main goal of CST is to facilitate a return to health and increased resourcing and potency within the system.
Psychotherapy for IBS
Psychotherapy is recommended as part of a treatment program to help patients better manage their symptoms and to address psychosocial difficulties that may be interfering with daily function and ability to manage their illness. Stress and anxiety don’t necessarily cause IBS, however they can definitely make it worse. Psychotherapists aim to help patients change their habitual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that may magnify stress responses and negative moods. They apply a series of self-exploration exercises and stress reducing strategies. Psychotherapy also allows patients to make connections between their illness and what has happened to them. Additionally, it makes individuals more aware of what situations trigger the onset of their symptoms and provides a sense of expectation and hope.
Naturopathic Medicine for IBS
The treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome from a Naturopathic perspective can include several different strategies. It may begin with an elimination/challenge diet, which is when a person eliminates the most common food allergens for up to six weeks to detect suspected food intolerances or irritants. These may include but are not limited to: dairy, gluten, yeast, eggs, corn, soy, peanuts, tomatoes, citrus, and refined sugar. The different food groups are gradually introduced back in one at a time to see if there is a reaction. A diet diary is recommended to record symptoms that may develop during the re-introduction period.
Another method that is used is the FODMAP challenge, as food in the FODMAP (Excess Fructose, Lactose, Fructans, Galactans, and Polyols) groups may also cause IBS symptoms. The challenge is done similarly to the elimination diet. Some common FODMAP foods include apple, blackberries, ice cream, milk, broccoli, garlic, onion, cashews, beans, avocados and mushrooms. At the same time, a natural anti-microbial may be used to rid the intestinal track of harmful bacterial that may have built up from a variety of causes including the use of antibiotics. The natural anti-microbial will also work to create a healthy environment for beneficial bacteria in the intestinal track. After this, the digestive track can be repopulated with good bacteria by taking a high quality probiotic. Other natural supplements and digestive enzymes may also be recommended depending on the particular patients symptoms.
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The IBS Self Core Plan. (2016). Counselling and Psychotherapy . Retrieved from http://www.theibsnetwork.org/the-self-care-plan/therapies/counselling-and- psychotherapy/
WebMD. (2016). Irritable Bowel Syndrome Health Center. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/ibs/guide/irritable-bowel-syndrome-symptoms-types