Spotlight on women’s health: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

There are many conditions and illnesses that affect women in particular, which are significant, but often go unnoticed. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects approximately one in five people in the UK at some point during their lifetime, and is most commonly found in young women under the age of 30.

What can be dismissed as stomach cramps can actually be a larger problem, so if it persists make sure you visit your GP for more information about what to do. IBS is indicated by many symptoms ranging in severity. It can give rise to bloating and abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits. The abdominal pain has often been said to fluctuate, with those suffering from IBS describing spasms in the stomach, where the pain varies in sharpness.

Changes in bowel movements can often be observed, such as diarrhoea or constipation, as indicated by the term ‘IBS’ itself. Some people also experience fatigue and nausea, as well as back pain and incontinence, as a result of the irritation of the digestive system. IBS is a chronic condition that often affects people for a lot of their lifetime, and although it is not directly harmful to the body, it can mimic more serious problems such as coeliac disease.

Any signs of bleeding, significant weight loss, pain when eating, vomiting or feeling something hard in your stomach could signal that it is something other than IBS, and in this instance you should seek your doctor’s advice.

It is important to take precautions and try to alleviate any discomfort or pain, and this can be done in a variety of ways. Herbal remedies such as peppermint or ginger that can be taken as tea, and heat pads and hot water bottles can reduce stomach pain. Otherwise, keep hydrated, eat and exercise well, and keep a food diary. IBS can indicate intolerance when it flares up or worsens after eating something, so keep track and you might notice a pattern when you eat particular foods.

IBS can be caused by particular circumstances, and so it is important to know when someone should be aware of it. It is well recognised that symptoms can intensify from being more stressed than usual, and so it is likely that around exam time, existing symptoms can increase in severity.

Medication may also affect IBS: some women observe that it happens in a cyclical pattern, in which case it is worth having a conversation with your GP about possible steps to take or how better to manage your symptoms.

If you have concerned about having experienced such symptoms as mentioned here, or have done so for a sustained period of time, please visit your GP or look at NHS resources online. For example: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/

Image: Max Pixel

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