According to BetterHealth.vig.gov.au, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects between 10 and 20 per cent of people living in Australia. That means as many as one in five people are currently suffering with symptoms that can range from farting and bloating to severe abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation.
Given that so many people are suffering from the chronic condition, it’s surprising that we know so little about it. There is no known cause, nor is there a cure and treatment usually focuses on relieving pain. And the pain of IBS can be intolerable at times. In a study conducted by the University of North Carolina, people with IBS told researchers that they would give up an average of 25 per cent of their remaining lives to be symptom-free.
While experts don’t know what causes IBS, they are in agreement that there are definitely ways that the condition’s effects can be mitigated. So you don’t fall foul of IBS’ most severe symptoms, we spoke to world-leading gut directed hypnotherapist and gastroenterologist researcher Dr Simone Peters, who works in the Department of Gastroenterology at Monash University and is Director of the Mind + Gut Clinic in Melbourne, Australia.
What is IBS?
IBS is a disorder that affects the digestive system and is characterised by a cluster of issues, including abdominal pain and discomfort, diarrhoea, constipation and bloating. The condition can cause varying degrees of discomfort over an extended period of time. Unfortunately, no one knows the root cause and diagnosing the condition can take a while because doctors have to rule out more serious conditions.
“The exact cause of IBS is unknown. Factors that often play a role include intestinal motility, visceral hypersensitivity, microbiota, and brain-gut interactions,” explains Dr Peters.
What are the most common symptoms?
“The most common symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain associated with defecation or a change in bowel habits (diarrhoea and/or constipation). Clinical features of abdominal bloating/distension and flatulence are also frequently reported.”
If left untreated, how can IBS affect someone physically?
“There are very few physical effects associated with untreated IBS, other than the obvious ongoing symptoms associated with the disorder. An exception to this might be haemorrhoids as a result of chronic constipation or diarrhoea.”
And what about the implications to overall well-being and mental health?
“IBS has a considerable impact on an individual’s well-being and mental health. Patients with IBS have a poorer quality of life, increased levels of anxiety and depression when compared to non-IBS populations.”
Testing for IBS
Currently, there’s no definitive test for IBS, but the symptoms have to be present for at least six months before a diagnosis can be considered.
Doctors will look to exclude other conditions including bowel cancer, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Coeliac Disease, or thyroid problems.
Historically, what have been the most common ways to manage and help to ease the symptoms of IBS?
Historically, the most common ways of managing IBS symptoms have been over the counter and prescription medications and in more recent years dietary interventions such as the low FODMAP diet.
Tell us about Nerva and how it works to self-manage IBS symptoms?
Nerva is a gut-directed hypnotherapy program designed to help people self-manage the physical symptoms associated with IBS. During the Nerva program, users are guided by daily educational readings and hypnotherapy sessions. The hypnotherapy component aims to improve the line of communication between the brain and the gut, alter gastrointestinal motility and reduce visceral hypersensitivity. Nerva has been shown to improve IBS symptoms similar to rates seen in face-to-face trials. Nerva provides a cost effective and accessible alternative to an otherwise expensive IBS solution and enables the widespread use of the solution despite limited numbers of trained professionals.