What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Around one in five Australians experience symptoms of IBS at some time. Classified as a functional gastrointestinal disorder, IBS is characterised by recurrent abdominal pain, bloating and abnormal bowel habits, often alternating constipation and diarrhea. Women are more prone to IBS, and symptoms often first occur in adulthood. It can leave sufferers frustrated because their symptoms are often not taken seriously (1).
Read on to learn more about this debilitating syndrome and what can be done to help.
There are three major categories for Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
- Constipation-predominant – the person tends to alternate constipation with normal stools. Symptoms of abdominal cramping or aching are commonly triggered by eating.
- Diarrhoea-predominant – the person tends to experience diarrhoea first thing in the morning or after eating. The need to go to the toilet is typically urgent and can’t be delayed.
- Alternating constipation and diarrhoea.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
Some of the more common signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome include:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Alternating diarrhoea and constipation
- A sensation of insufficiently emptied after passing a motion
- Abdominal bloating
- Mucus present in the stools
What are the causes of IBS?
The cause of IBS is unknown, but environmental factors can trigger symptoms. These factors include:
- Gastrointestinal infections, which can result in persisting bowel symptoms long after the disease has healed.
- Food intolerances, in particular, sugar intolerances, such as impaired absorption of lactose and fructose.
- A low fibre diet, often linked to constipation dominant IBS
- Emotional stress, such as anxiety and agitation, which can affect the nerves of the bowels.
- Medication such as antibiotics, antispasmodics and painkillers, which can lead to a change of bowel habits.
How is IBS diagnosed?
IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion. Doctors will commonly check patients for other gastrointestinal diseases, e.g. diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease, Coeliac disease and polyps.
Diagnosis methods include:
- Blood tests, including blood tests for Coeliac disease
- Stool tests
- Colonoscopy or barium enema.
How is IBS treated?
There is no cure for IBS with conventional medication or special diets. Treatments revolve around preventative measures to identify and avoid specific triggers. Treatment options may include:
- An increase in dietary fibre and water intake
- Avoidance of common gas-producing foods, such as beans and cabbage
- Elimination of dairy products or implementing a lactose-free diet
- Diets, such as the FODMAP diet, which avoids certain carbohydrates (sugars)
- Anti-diarrhoea medication such as Imodium
- Pain-relieving medicines such as opiates with codeine that can also provide relief from diarrhoea of diarrhoea-predominant IBS
- Laxatives for constipation
- Antispasmodic drugs to combat cramping
- Tricyclic antidepressants – these can be effective in treating the pain of IBS
- Stress management
- Establishing eating routines and avoiding sudden changes in routine.
IBS treatment with acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM)
Western medical treatments are often not satisfactory for IBS sufferers. Therefore, an increasing number of people have turned to alternative medicine such as East Asian medicine to alleviate symptoms. Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) and acupuncture have long been practised for over two thousand years.
A current meta-analysis and systematic review of 21 trials (2) examining IBS sufferers predominantly with diarrhoea showed improved symptoms when receiving acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatments. Both modalities combined displayed an enhancing effect on healing, shortening the course of treatment, and reducing side effects. The group, which received Western medicine combined with East Asian medicine, significantly improved symptoms such as abdominal pain, distention/discomfort, and diarrhoea. Acupuncture and CHM helped alleviate general symptoms, especially those related to physical strength, sleep, and diet, which could not be sufficiently addressed through Western medicine.
Potential mechanism of acupuncture and CHM
According to this research, Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture can effectively regulate the internal organs through the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems by expanding the organs’ blood circulation, up- and down-regulating the expression of cell receptors and specific protein production, as well as regulating sympathetic nerve activity. These mechanisms help reduce gastrointestinal motility, intestinal inflammation, and gut dysbiosis (imbalance of the bacterial microbiome).
How can Ondol Clinic help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
We offer gentle Japanese acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutritional advice and supplements at our clinic. IBS is a multifactorial condition which needs to be approached from different angles. In our initial consultation, we do a comprehensive assessment of your health and develop an individual treatment plan tailored to your particular situation and needs. Stress management and relaxation are an important part of our holistic approach. Chinese herbal formulas – if needed – are prescribed by our practitioners and made up in granulated form at our premises. Be assured that we only use the highest quality herbs available in Australia.
For more information about how we can help you with your gut symptoms and other conditions contact us on 07 3371 0100 or book online!
1. Better Health Channel 2021, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs>
2. Liu, L, Lu, J, Miao, Z et al. 2019, ‘Acupuncture plus chinese herbal medicine for Irritable Bowel Syndrome with diarrhea: a systemic review and meta-analysis’, Hindawi, vol. 2019, <https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2019/7680963/>