Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects around one in five people in the UK and it can be managed very effectively although it cannot be cured.
What is IBS?
It used to be called spastic colon and it is not an actual illness but rather a set of symptoms that can cause more misery than those who have never suffered from it may realise. These symptoms can be so awful they can completely incapacitate the sufferer severely affecting their quality of life.
It can cause social embarrassment, an inhibited sex-life and constant anxiety about not being able to find a toilet before it becomes suddenly and distressingly too late.
“Many patients who suffer from unexpected bowel movements become anxious, afraid and at times even phobic to go out and socialise.”
Dr Yoram Inspector, Consultant Psychiatrist and psychotherapist at St Mark’s Hospital for Bowel Disease
An absence of a bowel movement for as long as two weeks is not uncommon, resulting in extreme pain.
Physically IBS symptoms include
acute abdominal pain
needing more frequent bowel movements
an urgent need to go to the toilet
constipation alternating with diarrhoea
sudden bowel evacuation urgency
lower gut pain stomach cramps
painfully large stools
It is important to have been properly examined by a Gastroenterologist as IBS is diagnosed when tests for other bowel disorders have been carried out first.
The Brain and the Bowel
The relationship between the brain and the bowel is a direct and complex one. It’s known that emotions such as stress and anxiety can seriously affect the gut and symptoms of bowel conditions and those suffering from IBS will often find their gut is most sensitive to emotions.
“Many of our emotions can be felt in our stomach and can present as physical symptoms. Gastrointestinal symptoms can cause us anxiety when we don’t understand them and make us feel helpless and depressed. When we are anxious we have more bowel movements and when we are depressed we might become more constipated. It is a dual carriageway – this is called the Brain-Gut Axis in scientific language.”
Language plays an important part in the mind/body connection.
“It’s common for unexplained gut symptoms to be closely linked to emotional and physical trauma and abuse. We try to help people who were literally ‘gutted’ by what has happened to them. They couldn’t ‘digest’ or ‘stomach’ the traumatic experiences they were subjected to, and their ‘stomach turned’ and or has been ‘knotted with fear’ ever since.”
Open Gate Theory
This theory proposes that there is a filter located within the spinal cord that blocks unimportant messages and prevents them from reaching the brain.
“There are numerous nerve receptors in the gut which transfer information to the brain. If all the information that they receive went directly to the brain, we wouldn’t be able to think about anything else – our ‘brain mail inbox’ would be blocked by e-mails from the gut. However, for many people with sensitive bowels this gate doesn’t work properly – it remains open so the gut bombards the brain with too many messages. It’s as if there is a hotline between the gut and the brain.”
Gut Orientated Therapy
During your appointment you will be given an explanation of how the gut works, what causes the symptoms and you will be shown how to influence and gain control of your gut functions.
We will utilise the therapeutic power of relaxation and belief to alter the bowel function. This therapy will also help with sensations, feelings, thoughts and behaviours in a way that can help you to feel better and more able to cope.
(All quotes are from Dr Yoram Inspector)
Meanwhile here’s a YouTube video from Mandie Swiss who has kindly given me permission to share it on this website.
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