Saturday, February 07, 2009

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common bowel disorder that has symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and changes in stool consistency and frequency.

The symptoms may vary over time and in different individuals, but abdominal pain - especially in the region of the colon - is always present and is associated with disturbed bowel movements.

Although IBS does not lead to obstruction, bleeding or cancer of the colon, the quality of life for individuals with severe symptoms may suffer.


While diagnosing IBS, TCM tries to identify several patterns of dysfunction that involve the spleen, liver, kidney and large intestines.

Apart from its symptoms, TCM looks at other complaints such as cold hands and feet, lower back pain and frequent urination.

The objectives of TCM treatment are to restore balance by replenishing and regulating quip and yang energies and improving digestion in the affected organs. Bear in mind that the definition of these organs, according to TCM, goes beyond the conventional understanding of anatomical form and function. The holistic approach of TCM regards each organ systems within our body to be inter-dependent.

A TCM practitioner may dispense customised herbal prescriptions containing herbs such as ginseng, podia cocas, red dates or hawthorn.

Interestingly, TCM traces the root causes of IBS to improper diet, poor eating habits and digestions, stress and emotional disturbance. Successful treatment will involve lifestyle modifications to prevent or minimise recurrences.


The homeopathic approach to IBS is constitutional. The correct homeopathic remedy will help attack the core of the problem, starting the healing process from within.

It has been found that food intolerances and emotional stress could contribute to IBS.

Hence it is important to understand the mental and emotional state of that person, not only the physical symptoms.

However there are some remedies that may help. For instance, argentums nit is good for those with severe flatulence followed by alternating signs of constipation and diarrhoea and mucus stool. Cantharis is good for those who feel burning pains in the abdomen and experience nausea, thirst and vomit.

To keep these symptoms at bay, follow a sensible diet. Increase intake of high fibre foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, brown rice and whole grains to reduce constipation. A food intolerance test will help to distinguish which groups aggravate the symptoms.

Drink large amount of water - at least 8 - 10 glasses a day as this will soften stools.


Studies show that IBS affects at least 10 to 15 percent of the population in Singapore. A recent survey revealed that men and women between the ages of 20 and 40 are at the highest risk of developing IBS.

Individuals with IBS usually have abdominal pain or discomfort with painful constipation or diarrhoea, accompanied by instances of bloating, flatulence and incomplete emptying of stools. Severe IBS is also known to cause depression, anxiety and irritability. Psycho-social factors, dietary factors or past gut infections may trigger a change in the sensation and contraction of the colon resulting in IBS symptoms.

Not all individuals with IBS especially those with mild symptoms, need to seek medical attention. However, if there is a recent change in bowel symptoms along with weight loss, fever, blood in stool or a family history of cancer, immediate medical consultation is mandatory.

Your doctor may advise you to go for a barium enema x-ray in which chalky substance (barium) is administered through the rectum into the colon so that x-ray pictures of the colon can be obtained.

Alternatively, colonoscopy - a procedure involving the use of a flexible tube mounted with a camera - may be performed to check for any abnormality in the colon.
Most individuals with IBS have mild symptoms and are able to control their symptoms through education, reassurance, stress management, diet and lifestyle modifications.

Regular exercise and relaxation techniques are helpful in reducing stress, that aggravates IBS. A high fibre diet is usually recommended, except in those with severe bloating.

Avoiding artificial sweeteners, milk products and caffeine is essential. Medications acting on the colon, are needed for individuals with moderate to severe symptoms.

Psychological counselling and specific therepies may also benefit individuals with predominant symptoms of depression and anxiety.

It is important to consult the same doctor who has diagnosed your IBS symptoms so that a tailored programme can be worked out to ensure rapidly recovery.


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