It’s natural for people to talk about health issues – especially as we get older, move away from home, and nurture growing families. Being able to express our anxiety about upcoming procedures and test results can be comforting, as can hearing from someone who has “been there.” But some conditions generate a feeling of embarrassment and those suffering from symptoms do so in silence. Such is the case with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Most of us experience abdominal discomfort at some point in our lives; sometimes it’s chronic enough to cause concern. Visiting the doctor could confirm a diagnosis of IBS, a disorder of the lower intestinal tract that can result in moderate to severe abdominal pain and abnormal bowel movements. However, IBS is often misdiagnosed because it is a misunderstood condition. Dr. Wang Xiaoyu of Beijing 21st Century Hospital specializes in gastrointestinal endoscopy, including the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal diseases like ISB.
IBS is a functional disease, meaning that while the symptoms have a serious appearance, the condition is often temporary and can greatly improve with natural treatments. Organic diseases, such as Crohn’s or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), require ongoing treatment before noticeable improvement occurs, because actual tissue destruction has already taken place. Complete cures for organic diseases are rare, but symptoms can be relieved to a certain extent.
Is It IBS?
Although the exact cause of IBS is unknown, there are many factors that contribute to it. Psychological states, such as stress, anxiety, or depression, stimulate the body and affect the nervous system. Genetics also play a part. And while certain foods can trigger symptoms (such as spicy foods and lactose), diet alone does not cause IBS.
Patients who are diagnosed with IBS are typically in good health and only experience abdominal tenderness. If there is no weight loss or fever, and if all of the standard gastrointestinal tests (stool cultures, barium enema X-ray, colonoscopy) come back negative for other diseases, the symptoms are usually indications that the patient suffers from IBS and not something more severe.
While there is no cure for IBS, there are certainly ways to lessen the discomfort and manage symptoms. Patients who suffer from constipation should eat a high-fiber diet, while those with diarrhea should maintain a semi-liquid diet. In either case, it’s helpful to start a food journal to identify IBS triggers. Additionally, reducing stress can help control IBS symptoms. Some people are simply more susceptible to stress than others, compromising their immune system and overall health. Living in a foreign culture is stressful, as are the challenges that many face while living away from home. What we need to realize is when stress starts to affect our bodies in a negative way.
IBS is very common, particulary in China. “In recent years, with the increasing pace of stress at work and at home, the incidence of IBS is on the rise,” says Dr. Wang. According to a survey, 10.5 percent of the population in some Chinese cities has IBS and it affects an estimated 25 percent of the population in developed countries. This makes IBS the second-most common illness in the world (the common cold being the first.) And while there is no difference in disease rates between men and women, the prevalence of IBS in urban elementary and high school students increases with age.
Fortunately, IBS does not result in a higher risk of cancer or more severe bowel trouble. People often mistake their symptoms for IBD, intestinal tuberculosis, the early stages of colon cancer, or other organic diseases. However, simple tests can rule out such diseases, and as long as IBS is properly treated, a patient can receive rapid relief.
If you think you might be suffering from IBS, keep a journal to record habits that may be exacerbating the condition. How stressed do you feel lately? What foods have you been eating? Have you been exercising? Have you been listening to calming music?
Dr. Wang suggests: “Find a suitable way to relax. Eat slower, eat less, increase your fiber intake, drink plenty of water, drink less alcohol, smoke less, drink less caffeine, and try to eat fewer fatty and oily foods as they are not easy to digest.”
Be careful with laxatives. It’s easy to want to “fix” a minor problem with over-the-counter treatments, but overusing laxatives may actually create a new problem. Consider adding probiotic supplements to your diet; they help maintain a healthy digestive system. If these self-help measures do not work, seek medical attention.
There are many traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatments that can relieve IBS symptoms; however, it’s essential to talk to a reputable doctor to make sure that the herbs and extracts are prepared in the correct proportions. Patients can resolve problems ranging from constipation or diarrhea to allergies and overall detoxification and wellbeing. Some firmly believe that a dietary detox can give the intestinal organs a necessary fresh start.
While telling someone to relax may just cause him or her to tense up, there is a lot to be said for finding balance in your life. Rather than assuming the worst about your abdominal troubles, be aware of your body’s reaction to what goes in it – food, stress, or otherwise – and respond accordingly. Work with your doctor to create a flexible treatment plan to feel at ease again.
Beijing 21st Century Hospital
Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat-Sun 9am-6pm; 24-hr house call service. 1-2/F, 21st Century
Plaza, A40 Liangmaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District (8444 6168 English/Chinese, 8444 6160 Japanese/Korean) www.21-hospital.com 朝阳区亮马桥路甲40号21世纪大厦1-2楼