By Jordan Haworth, GI Physiologist
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a complex system that is responsible for the digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food we eat.
Unfortunately, it is also a common site for the development of various digestive disorders.
Two such conditions that can significantly affect the quality of life of those affected are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Although these conditions share some symptoms and are often confused, they are different conditions with distinct causes, diagnostic criteria, and treatment options.
What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that is characterized by recurring episodes of abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea, constipation, or both. IBS does not cause recognisable inflammation or damage to the intestinal lining, and there is no specific test or imaging study to diagnose it.
The exact cause of IBS is not fully understood, but it is believed to result from a complex interaction between the brain and the gut. Factors such as stress, anxiety, changes in diet or physical activity, and gut microbiota imbalances may trigger or exacerbate symptoms in susceptible individuals.
The diagnostic criteria for IBS typically involve three main components: symptoms, duration, and exclusion of other potential causes.
The symptoms of IBS can vary widely from person to person but generally include recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort that is associated with changes in bowel habits. These changes can include diarrhoea, (IBS-D) constipation, (IBS-C) or a combination of both, (IBS-M), as well as changes in the consistency or appearance of stool. Other common symptoms may include bloating, gas, and a feeling of incomplete bowel movements.
To meet the diagnostic criteria for IBS, patients must experience these symptoms for at least six months. Additionally, healthcare professionals must rule out other potential causes of the symptoms, such as inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, or colon cancer, through a series of tests and exams.
Treatment options for IBS
One common approach to treating IBS is through dietary changes. Many individuals with IBS benefit from a low FODMAP diet, which eliminates certain types of carbohydrates that can trigger symptoms. Additionally, fibre supplements or probiotics may be recommended to help regulate bowel movements and improve gut health.
Medications can also be used to manage IBS symptoms. Antispasmodics can help relieve cramping and abdominal pain, while laxatives can help alleviate constipation. In some cases, antidepressants may be prescribed. The reason antidepressants are used to treat IBS is because they typically target serotonin receptors and serotonin has many roles in the gut, such as controlling how the gut moves and how the gut senses pain. They may also help to address the anxiety and depression that often accompany IBS.
Another treatment option for IBS is psychological therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals with IBS identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that may be contributing to their symptoms. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises can also be helpful in reducing stress and promoting overall wellness.
Ultimately, the best treatment plan for IBS will depend on the individual and their specific symptoms. Working with a healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan is essential for managing IBS and improving overall quality of life.
What is IBD?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the digestive system. It refers to a group of conditions that cause inflammation and damage to the lining of the GI tract.
The two most common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus, while ulcerative colitis affects only the colon and rectum.
Diagnosing IBD can be a challenging process as its symptoms can be similar to other gastrointestinal disorders. However, there are some key indicators that physicians use to diagnose IBD.
Firstly, a detailed medical history and physical examination are taken to understand the patient’s symptoms and any possible risk factors. Laboratory tests such as blood and stool tests may also be conducted to identify any inflammation or infection. Imaging studies such as endoscopy or colonoscopy may be used to examine the digestive tract and obtain tissue samples for analysis.
Additionally, specialized tests such as capsule endoscopy or CT enterography may be utilized to evaluate the extent of the disease. With accurate diagnosis, appropriate treatment can be initiated to control symptoms and reduce complications. Regular monitoring and follow-up care are essential for individuals with IBD to manage the disease effectively.
Treatment options for IBD
One of the primary treatment options for IBD is medication, which may include anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressants, or biologics. These medications work to reduce inflammation in the digestive tract and prevent the immune system from attacking healthy tissue.
In addition to medication, dietary changes can also play an important role in managing IBD symptoms. Some people with IBD may need to avoid certain foods that trigger inflammation, while others may benefit from a high-fiber diet. However, even people with IBD in remission still experience IBS-like symptoms of bloating and abdominal pain, and it is entirely possible to have IBS if you have IBD. You can read more about the causes of IBS in IBD here.
Surgery may also be an option for people with severe cases of IBD, particularly if medications and dietary changes are not effective. Surgery can involve removing part of the intestine or colon, which can help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.
Finally, lifestyle changes like stress management and regular exercise can also help reduce symptoms and improve overall health for people with IBD. While IBD can be a challenging condition to manage, with the right treatment and support, many people with IBD are able to lead full and active lives.
At the Functional Gut Clinic, we have a comprehensive range of tests that can give an overview of your gut health and lead to a gut health diagnosis.
We combine the very latest diagnostic technology with a team of dedicated specialists to offer a trusted, proven and reliable service that swiftly identifies the problem with your gut health; then connects patients with precisely the right treatment to alleviate symptoms or put things right.
You can fill in our self-referral form to see if you might be suitable for our diagnostic testing, or alternatively get in touch with our friendly team with any specific questions about treatment options.