Irritable bowel syndrome is one of the most common digestive conditions in the UK and it affects between 10 and 20 percent of the population. IBS is more common in women, especially those aged between 20 and 30, but it can affect people of all ages.
IBS is an umbrella term that covers a number of different illnesses that affect the digestive system; it is a chronic condition, which can be caused by a number of different factors.
Causes of IBS
The exact cause of IBS remains unknown but research has indicated a number of factors which may contribute to the condition; these include:
- Problems relating to the movement of food during the digestion process (how the food is moved through the intestines)
- Sensitive digestive organs
- Problems with the nervous system and how it manages the digestion process
- Abnormal response to infection
- Having a compromised immune system
Psychological issues may also contribute to IBS; changes in mood, depression, stress and anxiety have all been linked to this condition.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of IBS vary between individuals but the most common symptoms include:
- Feeling bloated
- Changes in bowel movements (having constipation or diarrhoea)
- Abdominal pains and cramps
- Feeling that your bladder has not been fully emptied despite having recently been to the toilet
- Mucus in the faeces
- Pain in the lower back, muscles and joints
- Feeling the need to urinate constantly
Most people with irritable bowel syndrome suffer symptoms for a few days and then they wear off. Symptoms are often worse after eating.
There is no cure for IBS, but there are several treatments available to help ease the symptoms; these include:
- A change in diet: positive changes in diet vary according to the individual; people with IBS are often advised to keep a food diary to determine which foods cause a flare-up in symptoms. Once certain foods have been indentified, the patient can try to avoid them. General guidelines for people with IBS include cutting down on fizzy drinks, caffeine, sugary foods and foods that contain resistant starch (often this if found in ready meals), limiting fruit to 3 portions per day and drinking plenty of water.
- Exercise: exercise has been proven to ease many of the symptoms associated with IBS, as well as providing a range of other health benefits
- Stress management: stress has been linked to IBS so take steps to avoid stressful situations and take time to relax.
- Medication: certain medications may be prescribed to tackle some of the symptoms of IBS; these include medications to reduce muscle cramping and pain, treat diarrhoea and cure constipation.
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is a very common condition; at least 10 percent of people in the UK experience acid reflux once a week. GORD is also known as acid reflux; it occurs when acid from the stomach comes back up into the oesophagus.
What causes GORD?
In many cases of GORD, there seems to be no apparent cause; however, some cases are caused by problems with the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS); this is the muscle located at the bottom of the oesophagus that shuts off the opening to the oesophagus to prevent reflux. If the muscle becomes damaged, acid reflux may occur. Other possible causes may include pressure on the stomach. There are also a number of risk factors that increase the chance of suffering from GORD; these include:
- Having a diet that is high in fat
- Being overweight
- Pregnancy (the increase in hormones can cause the LOS muscle to become weakened)
- Smoking and drinking (these cause the LOS muscle to relax)
- Caffeine (this causes the LOS to relax)
Symptoms of GORD
The most common symptoms of GORD are heartburn (a burning sensation which stretches from the stomach to the neck) and the acidic, nasty taste which is experienced in the mouth as a result of acid reflux. Symptoms usually present after eating and may feel worse if the patient is lying flat on their back.
Treatment for GORD
Making a few simple changes can ease the symptoms of GORD; these include:
- Cutting down on fatty foods
- Losing weight (if you are overweight or obese)
- Stopping smoking
- Cutting down on drink
- Eating smaller meals (rather than 3 big meals each day)
- Keep a food diary and try to identify foods or drinks that make your symptoms worse
In addition, you can also try taking over the counter medications, such as antacids to neutralise stomach acids; some doctors may also prescribe PPIs (proton-pump inhibitors); this type of medication helps to reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach.