What is IBS?
IBS is considered a functional disorder. This means that the intestines are not functioning properly, although there is no evidence of an organic structural abnormality.
IBS is a very real physiological disorder – not merely a psychosomatic ailment, as once believed.
Some think IBS is a disorder of the enteric nervous system: the nerve supply in the ‘brain in the gut’ alters normal pain perception, and the bowel becomes oversensitive to normal stimuli.
What are the symptoms associated with IBS?
- Symptoms are varied and may include:
- Stools that are more frequent and looser at the start of episodes of abdominal pain
- Relief of pain after defecating
- Sense of incomplete evacuation
- Mucus in the stools
- Sense of abdominal bloating
- Constant pressure or abdominal pain and altered bowel habits
- Constipation with or without pain
- Pain with bowel movements
- Painless diarrhea only
- Alternating constipation and diarrhea
Additional symptoms that may accompany IBS include:
- Loss of appetite
- Poor nutrient absorption (if diarrhea is severe)
How is IBS diagnosed?
The diagnosis is one of elimination. This means that other diseases with similar symptoms must be ruled out one by one to establish a diagnosis of IBS.
Your doctor will likely order stool samples, blood tests, and x-rays. A gastro-intestinal specialist will usually perform a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to check the colon for any suspicious growths or abnormalities. You may also be tested for lactose-intolerance and Celiac Disease (an auto-immune disease in which the body cannot break down gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley).
If test results are negative, your doctor may diagnose Irritable Bowel Syndrome based on a list of criteria indicative of IBS. (See the Mayo clinic’s page for the ‘Rome criteria’ employed to make a diagnosis.)
Possible causes of IBS:
The exact cause of IBS remains unknown, but following is a list of potential contributing factors:
Irregularities in intestinal hormones and nerves responsible for bowel motility (muscle contraction)
- Bacteria, fungi, or parasites
- Dietary inadequacies
- Food intolerances (allergies and sensitivities)
- Inadequate enzyme production
- Dysbiosis (an imbalance in the intestinal flora, i.e. too many harmful bacteria and not enough beneficial ones)
- Reaction to medications (such as destruction of intestinal flora by antibiotics)
- Undiagnosed lactose intolerance
What is the Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective?
When we treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Chinese Medicine, we always look to the root imbalance in each individual patient. Out of four patients with a Western medical diagnosis of IBS, we may come to four completely different Chinese medical diagnoses. Each will be treated very differently. We choose points and herbs based on our diagnosis to treat the root imbalance, while helping to relieve the symptoms.
Women often find that their symptoms fluctuate with their cycle. Many female IBS sufferers are more likely to experience flare-ups pre-menstrually or during their cycle, at which point inflammation tends to be kicked up in the body. In such a case, we would also aim at regulating the cycle and balancing hormones to keep fluctuations to a comfortable minimum.
We take into consideration any accompanying symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, and work at restoring overall health and well-being to the best of our ability.
Acupuncture works by allowing the body to tap into its own resources for healing. It is based on the premise that we all have the innate ability to heal and need first and foremost to reconnect to that ability. The deep rest induced by acupuncture, along with supplementation of herbs when necessary, can help to restore optimal health and well-being.
That said, it is important to take into consideration any aggravating factors that continue to trigger symptoms and eliminate or, at the very least, reduce these as much as possible. The greater the patient’s own involvement and commitment to healing, the faster their progress and the more complete their healing will be.
A few facts worth noting:
- According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, IBS is one of the most frequently occurring GI disorders and accounts for 41% of all visits to gastroenterology practices.
- It is estimated today that 1 in 5 Americans has IBS symptoms, making it second only to the common cold as the most frequent cause of absenteeism from work and school.
- Most people with IBS have such mild symptoms that they do not seek medical care for it, and those that do are seldom hospitalized.
- At least twice as many women as men are diagnosed with IBS. More men may suffer from the disease than reported, however; many with IBS (an estimated 90%) never consult a physician – at least in the Western cultures. Interestingly, the incidence of IBS is reversed in India; in India, twice as many men are affected as women. One explanation for this discrepancy is that men are more likely than women to seek medical care in India.
Some considerations to conclude with:
IBS sufferers may find some comfort in this bit of positive news: medical research shows that IBS does not cause permanent harm to the intestines and does not lead to more serious disease, such as cancer.
However, while this knowledge may serve to ease the worries marginally, it does not, unfortunately, ease the significant distress and discomfort IBS patients experience. IBS can be quite debilitating and may dramatically affect the patient’s work and personal life. Traveling even short distances, such as commuting back and forth to and from work, can become a daunting prospect, and some may find they are unable to leave their home for any significant length of time. Business trips and social outings can become a nightmare, if downright impossible. Shame and embarrassment are often associated with having to explain one’s limitations, and depression and anxiety frequently go hand in hand with the issue. Those afflicted with a milder version of the disorder may not find that it interferes with their lives quite as much in terms of what they can or cannot do, but, very often, the quality of their lives and enjoyment of activities is significantly impaired by chronic discomfort.
We would like to help you reclaim your life by breaking the cycle of dis-ease.
The First Year: IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)--An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed, by Heather Van Vorous
Heather Van Vorous is a patient-expert who conducted a tremendous amount of research upon being diagnosed with IBS herself and offers up her findings in this book to fellow sufferers.
Gut Solutions: Natural Solutions to Your Digestive Problems, by Brenda Watson, N.D., and Leonard Smith, M.D.
Co-written by a Naturopathic Doctor and a Medical Doctor, this book offers up a tremendous amount of insight into various disorders of the digestive system from both a conventional and a more alternative medical perspective. You will find lots of helpful information to help you heal!