Irritable bowel syndrome is a debilitating and distressing condition, which affects 10-20% of the population. IBS is characterized by abdominal pain and altered bowel function such as constipation, diarrhea or alternating diarrhea and constipation. Some people have occasional symptoms, which can be aggravated by stress or food intolerances. Others experience crippling symptoms, and struggle to maintain their quality of life in the absence of any targeted, effective pharmaceutical treatments.
This disorder affects people of all ages and backgrounds, including children, although women are predominantly affected. Severe IBS can dramatically restrict mobility, through loss of control of bowel function and severe abdominal pain. These symptoms contribute to IBS being second only to the common cold as the most frequent cause of absenteeism from work and school.
Despite the significant impact on individuals and the population at large, there is no clear established cause for IBS. Whilst medical investigations are important to eliminate the possibility of an over-lapping pathology such as parasites, candida, inflammatory bowel disease, cealiacs or Crohn’s disease, there is no specific investigation which patients can test positive for in order to confirm a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. A diagnosis of IBS is more often a diagnosis of exclusion – if its not another gastrointestinal condition, and it fits the symptom picture of IBS, then it is IBS.
The current accepted criteria for diagnosing IBS is the Rome criteria (adopted in medical texts and by the American Gastroenterological Association). Their definition of IBS consists of:
At least 12 weeks, which need not be consecutive, in the preceding 12 months of abdominal discomfort or pain that has two of three features:
Relieved with defecation and/or
Onset associated with a change in frequency of stool and/or
Onset associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool.
The following symptoms support the diagnosis of IBS:
Abnormal bowel movement frequency (more than three per day or less than three per week),
Abnormal stool form (lumpy/hard or loose/water),
Abnormal stool passage (straining, urgency, or feeling of incomplete evacuation),
Mucous passed with stools,
Abdominal bloating or distension.
There are few effective treatments for IBS. Pharmaceutical medications include anti-diarrheal agents and laxatives, some of which can be harmful if used repeatedly. Significant improvements can be made through dietary changes which can therefore reducing some trigger factors for IBS. It is also important to practice some stress reduction techniques such as breathing techniques, and positive psychology, as there is a direct link between stress and an aggravation of IBS symptoms.
The most promising, long-lasting and side-effect free results in the treatment of IBS were based on a large clinical trial conducted at an Australian university, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998.
These results demonstrated a 64-76% improvement rate on all measures of IBS such as abdominal pain, distention and bowel habits. These results were achieved in a double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial conducted by gastroenterologists and doctors. The remarkable positive results were achieved in the treatment group that received Chinese herbal treatments. This same formula can be purchased as pre-made capsules from select retailers, and it offers great hope for those struggling with IBS.