IBS: A Modern Day Epidemic (part 1)



Did you know that April is IBS Awareness Month? And did you know over 12 million people in the UK suffer with it? Nor did we! To support #IBSRelief month and to understand this common health issue, we're teaming up with digestive health expert Linda Booth, Founder of Just for Tummies in a series of guest blogs, throughout April. Look out for our weekly blog posts explaining Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), its causes, symptoms and cures and why it has become a modern day epidemic. Over to Linda...



Mention IBS, Crohn's disease or colitis and I dare say most of us know someone who has been affected by one of these diseases or a digestive disorder with painful and debilitating symptoms. Virtually unheard of a generation ago, IBS now has a significant worldwide prevalence, and it is on the rise.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of how IBS has become a modern day scourge, I'll explain the difference between the two categories that digestive and bowel disorders and diseases fall into - the categories being 'organic' and 'functional'.

'Organic' means the disease is measurable not just in terms of its symptoms but through blood tests, scans, X-rays, or endoscopies (camera down the throat or up the rear). Ulcerative colitis is an example of an organic bowel disease as it can be detected in a blood test and the ulceration in the bowel can be seen by the endoscopist during colonoscopy.

'Functional' means there is no test to measure the disease. It doesn't show up on blood tests, and all scans, X-rays and endoscopy investigations are clear. An example of a functional bowel disorder is the epidemic that is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) where individuals display symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain, irregular bowel movements and excessive smelly wind. IBS can cause poor body image because people feel fat and frumpy, leading to feelings of low self-esteem, depression and social anxiety. After all, who wants to go out socialising when you're having to plan where the toilets are? It becomes increasingly difficult and stressful to make plans when you're afraid you may have an embarrassing 'accident' in front of friends. And it's certainly no fun when you have to carry spare underwear around with you - not to mention a supply of wet wipes!

IBS is not a life-threatening illness but it can certainly be life-limiting in the restrictions and negative impact it can have on both professional and personal lives. My experience, as Colon Hydrotherapist has shown me how poorly understood and poorly managed IBS is in primary and secondary care. They simply do not understand the pathogeneses of the condition, or how to treat it successfully. Until the National Institute for Care and Health Excellence (NICE) takes on board the importance of probiotic supplementation when the gut flora has been decimated by either medications like antibiotics, steroids, antacids, or gut infections (think campylobacter from food poisoning), excessive stress, too much processed food (foods high in sugar, bad fats and salt), then we will continue to be faced with this IBS epidemic – and it will get only worse, with no respect for sex, age or background.

In the UK, around 10-15% of the population have been diagnosed with IBS – that's approximately 15 million people. My years in clinical practice tell me that this is a conservative estimate as this figure only accounts for the people who have been diagnosed with IBS by a healthcare professional. What about the millions of people who haven't been to see a GP, either through embarrassment, shame or fear, and are trying to manage the symptoms themselves? That changes the statistic considerably.

So what has caused this explosion in digestive and bowel disorders? And how can it be addressed? I'll be delving into that in part two of this post – coming to you next week...

Linda x

Look out for more information on Bowel Cancer/IBS Awareness Month over on Twitter throughout April and join in the national conversation using #IBSRelief

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