Understanding IBS

Written by Registered Dietitian Ellie Cheale BSc

What is IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common and misunderstood condition that is estimated
to affect around 10-20% of the population worldwide.
The symptoms of IBS can vary greatly from person to person. Some of the most common
symptoms include: diarrhoea and/or constipation, stomach cramps, bloating, wind,
increased / decreased frequency passing stools, urgency to go. People with IBS also report
increased anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping and reduced quality of life. If this sounds
similar to you then keep reading.

Getting diagnosed

It is important to get a diagnosis of IBS by your doctor so that they can screen for and rule
out other serious conditions and ensure it is accurately diagnosed.
The Rome IV Criteria is a commonly used tool that doctors and dietitians will use to
accurately diagnose IBS. However, only a medical doctor can adequately rule out other
conditions and properly diagnose IBS. If you have already been diagnosed with IBS, then
seeing a dietitian should be your next step.

Understanding IBS

        • Abdominal hypersensitivity – Evidence suggests that individuals with IBS are extra
          sensitive to gut changes, pain and other stimuli. In one research study, when a
          balloon inflated in the colon of people with and without IBS, individuals with IBS
          reported a higher degree of pain.
        •  Altered motility – Our guts are governed by a complex set of nerves and muscles
          that are designed to move food through our intestines in a succinct way. However,
          research suggests that in people with IBS, the muscle contractions don’t always do
          this so well, they could be too slow, too fast or just not co-ordinated.
        •  Your 1 st brain and your 2 nd (the gut!) – Your gut and brain are like two minds,
          constantly sending messages to one another. Thoughts, memories, feelings and pain
          regulation, can all be relayed from your brain to your gut and also the other way
          around! In IBS, you might be extra sensitive, or less sensitive to these messages
          depending on your situation. Your mental wellbeing can also have a great impact on
          the way your gut functions.
        • Gut Bacteria – Gut bacteria plays an important role in gut health and our bodies
          ability to break down and digest food. Research tells us that people with IBS tend to
          have different types and quantities of gut bacteria to those without IBS. The good
          news is, we can alter your gut bacteria with food and supplements. This is an exciting
          area of research and is always evolving!
        • Dietary triggers – Over recent years, many foods have been identified as causing
          issues in the gut. Many of those are included in a normal day-to-day diet and may be
          the cause of your situation. They are also found in foods that contain FODMAPS,
          which are a group of carbohydrates that rapidly ferment in the gut. The Low
          FODMAP diet has been shown to be highly effective in up to 75% of those with IBS.

However, it is important to note that this diet should only be carried out with the
supervision of a trained dietitian, as it is highly restrictive and can have issues of its
own if not carried out correctly. Information online can be misleading, confusing and
is not always accurate or up-to-date.

How can a dietitian help?

All, a combination or only one of these factors may be leading to your symptoms. As you
may have recognised, IBS is common, but also very individual. Now, your next step is to
learn how to manage these symptoms with the most effective dietary recommendations.
Your dietitian will help you to identify the issues associated with your symptoms by
completing a thorough dietary assessment with regular support and monitoring throughout
your journey. Contact your dietitian to help you gain back some control over your body and
improve your quality of life.