What is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the gastrointestinal tract, with as many as 1 in 5 people affected. Symptoms vary from person to person, but the most common indicators are abdominal pain or discomfort, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and flatulence (wind). These can come and go over time or flare up during periods of emotional stress or by eating certain foods.
IBS often affects people in their early 20s and 30s and is twice as common in females as males. There is no known cure for the disorder, so treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms.
IBS symptoms are challenging and can significantly impact a person’s day-to-day life. As a result, about 40- 60% of IBS patients can experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
IBS is complex to diagnose as symptoms vary, and it is not a clearly defined physical condition. A process of elimination usually diagnoses IBS.
Dive into our post on diagnosing IBS to learn more about IBS symptoms.
IBS affects approximately 20’000 people in Ireland, and these patients often spend between 10 to 15 years of their lives actively seeking a cure for their condition.
IBS patients often experience fluctuations in their symptoms marked by resolution periods and flare-ups.
Commonly reported symptoms include:
- abdominal pain,
- tiredness, and lack of energy.
There are four distinct types of IBS according to the Rome IV Classification depending on a patient’s bowel patterns:
- Constipation-predominant (IBS-C),
- Diarrhea-predominant (IBS-D),
- Mixed diarrhea and constipation (IBS-M)
- and a pattern in which symptoms could not be classified into any of the other three categories (IBS-U).
What causes IBS?
Several factors or a combination of factors may play a role in the development of IBS. Among these are
- previous history of IBS within a family,
- psychological distress,
- food intolerances,
- altered gut microbiota,
- intestinal sensitivity
What triggers an IBS flare-up?
Whether a single or combination of factors trigger an IBS flare-up is unclear, but previous research has highlighted the following:
- emotional stress
IBS: What foods to avoid?
IBS patients tend to report intolerances to certain foods that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, such as food containing:
- some carbohydrates
Patients may benefit from excluding foods that increase flatulence, such as beans, carrots, onions, bananas, apricots, prunes, and brussels sprouts.
Adhering to a low FODMAP (fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols) diet is another strategy to alleviate symptoms.
Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that is poorly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and can cause abdominal discomfort. The compound is found in some antibiotics, antidepressants, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
NSAIDs may also trigger IBS symptoms as they can cause injury to the mucosal lining of the gut. A recent study published by the journal Gaestrontology showed that probiotics could protect against the damage produced by NSAIDs.
Alcohol and caffeine may also exaggerate symptoms.
IBS and the microbiome
A growing body of evidence suggests imbalances in the gut microbiome contribute to the onset and symptoms associated with IBS. Studies have demonstrated a difference in the gut microbiome composition in patients with IBS compared to healthy individuals. IBS patients had a reduced diversity and stability of gut microbiota.
Did you know? 80% of our immune system lies in our gut, and there are approx. 100 million neurons (nerve cells) there.
IBS vs. IBD: What's the difference?
It is common for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to be confused with Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). Both are chronic conditions that cause abdominal and bowel distress, but these two conditions are very different. Irritable Bowel Disease is a term for a broad spectrum of diseases, but Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the most common.
Read our post on IBD, Ulcerative Colitis, a comprehensive guide, to learn more about the differences.
Clinical Trials for IBS
Further research is needed to understand the causes of IBS and effective treatments. IBS Clinical Trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy or treatment is effective with the help of volunteers. These trials help develop knowledge and ultimately help IBS patients worldwide.
Atlantia Clinical Trials and its academic partner APC Microbiome Ireland collaborated on this study which was the basis for this article.
Have you ever thought about becoming a volunteer to support the development of potential new treatments? Watch our video below to learn more about how you can get involved:
Interested in our study? Learn More & Apply
Atlantia Clinical Trials is a world-class renowned Contract Research Organisation (CRO) for delivering human clinical studies. We run many IBS trials, contact our team if you are interested in taking part.
Do you want to know more? Keep reading about IBS diagnostics in our next blog post.