Syndrome (IBS) - a Personal View
For several months I had a
persistent, nagging pain in my back. It was just about in the region of my right
kidney. It didn't seem to be getting any worse but it certainly wasn't getting
For a while I managed to convince myself that it was nothing
more than a muscular backache caused by crouching over a typewriter.
then I noticed two additional symptoms.
I started feeling constantly
`full' - as though I had just eaten a large meal - and I found myself visiting
the loo more often than I found entirely convenient.
When I told my GP he
took a routine urine sample.
And found blood.
The next step was a
The ultrasound pictures showed a rather mis-shapen
kidney. And more specialist X-ray pictures confirmed that there was something
wrong. My kidney looked as though it was auditioning for a part as the hunchback
of Notre Dame.
Unhappily, however, the radiologists couldn't get a really
good view of my kidney. Their view was obscured by large bubbles of inconvenient
gas lurking around in the coiled nooks and crannies of my intestinal
So I was given an appointment to go to another, larger, city
hospital for even more sophisticated tests. It was all very worrying. I knew
that the doctors who had examined me suspected the worst. And without anyone
saying anything I knew exactly how bad the worst could be. Very bad.
breathed a huge sigh of relief when the kindly radiologist at the large city
hospital told me that there was nothing seriously wrong with my kidney. It was,
he assured me, mis-shapen but perfectly healthy.
And so, after racing up
to Bristol to record a couple of TV programmes, and hurtling back home to write
a column, I set off, as I had previously planned, to Paris.
On the plane
flying over the Channel the pain in my back got much, much worse.
suddenly realised what was wrong.
The gas that the radiologist had
spotted in my intestines had expanded because of the change in air pressure and
it was the gas that was causing my pain.
And making me feel `full' all
And irritating my bowel and my bladder.
And pressing on
my kidney and causing the bleeding.
There was only one explanation for
this apparently bizarre set of circumstances.
I had irritable bowel
The moment I made the diagnosis I realised just why I had
acquired this most common of twentieth century disorders.
First, I had
been putting myself under an enormous amount of stress. For years I had run a
series of passionate campaigns designed to spread the truth and oppose those
parts of the medical establishment with which I disagreed. I had, for years,
been spending twelve hours a day on my campaigns.
Second, I had changed
my diet. I had cut out meat and fish and increased the quantity of vegetables
The irritable bowel syndrome is, without a doubt, one of
the commonest and most troublesome of all diseases.
Amazingly, as many as
one in three people suffer from it. It affects men as well as women and the
young as well as the old (though it primarily affects young women in their
twenties, thirties and forties).
The Symptoms And Causes Of
For the vast majority of sufferers there are three basic
* pain - usually colicky and spasmodic
* diarrhoea or
But those are by no means the only symptoms. Sufferers
also commonly complain of:
* constantly feeling full
* nausea, heartburn
* urinary frequency
You should visit your doctor for a precise diagnosis if you
think you could have irritable bowel syndrome.
But most patients with the
disorder will recognise at least a few of the symptoms I have
There are two very common causes of irritable bowel
The first is stress.
Muscles of all kinds respond
dramatically to tension.
Headaches, for example, are frequently caused
when the muscles around the head are tightened by worry and anxiety.
bowel muscles are as vulnerable as any other.
And the second cause of
irritable bowel syndrome is diet.
Most of us eat a diet which is bland
and contains far too little natural roughage.
How irritable bowel
syndrome can be controlled
Although we know a good deal about the
causes of irritable bowel syndrome we still don't know how to cure
But, as I have learned first hand, it can be controlled.
are a few of the things you can do to conquer irritable bowel
1. Visit your doctor. There are things he can do to help. And
many doctors do now recognise how troublesome irritable bowel syndrome can be.
You should never, ever make a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome yourself.
You should always visit your doctor and let him/her make the diagnosis. It is
vital to exclude other possible causes of your symptoms. Only a doctor can do
2. Peppermint oil capsules are extremely effective at controlling the
wind that is a common cause of symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome sufferers.
You can buy these or you can obtain them with a doctor's prescription. Drinking
peppermint tea may help too. Remember: never assume that you have irritable
bowel syndrome until you have seen your doctor.
3. Try to control the amount
of unnecessary stress and pressure in your life. Make a list of the priorities
in your life and decide how you are going to allocate your time.
Gradually, increase the amount of fibre you eat. Eat wholemeal bread or high
bran cereals, wholewheat pasta, brown rice and plenty of fresh vegetables and
fruit. (Do this gradually - if you increase the amount of fibre you eat too
quickly you may suffer from more wind).
5. Cut down your fat intake. Drink
skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. If you eat meat choose lean cuts. Use low fat
spreads instead of butter.
6. Try to do more exercise. Walk, swim, dance,
cycle or work out in the gym. All those things will help you.
7. Warmth is an
excellent remedy. If you get a painful tummy wrap a hot water bottle in a towel
and hug it.
8. Spend a little time learning to relax. Learning to relax is
like learning to drive a car or play golf: you need to put some effort into it.
9.Increase your intake of fluids. But don't drink too much milk. Quite a lot
of people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome react badly to dairy foods.
Cutting milk out completely may help you. Cutting out other dairy products (such
as cheese and cream) may also help.
Ten Ways To Reduce Your Intake
Too much sugar will cause tooth decay, make you fat, and
increase your risk of developing heart disease. It is also claimed that large
quantities of sugar will increase your risk of developing cancers of the breast,
colon and rectum. Too much sugar may exacerbate irritable bowel
So, to reduce your intake of sugar:
1. Read the labels on
packaged foods and avoid buying products that contain added sugar.
(moderate amounts of) dried fruits and nuts instead of sweets.
reduce the amount of sugar you use in tea or coffee.
4. Choose mineral water
instead of sugar-rich soft drinks.
5. Make puddings with less sugar.
Eat fresh fruit rather than tinned. If you buy tinned fruit, go for products in
juice rather than sugar-rich syrup.
7. Buy low sugar jams and marmalades and
spread jam and marmalade more thinly on bread and toast.
8. When eating out
choose fresh fruit instead of a high sugar, high fat pudding.
9. When cooking
use other flavours - such as spices or fruits - instead of sugar.
low sugar biscuits (instead of biscuits coated with chocolate).
Vernon Coleman's book Relief from IBS is published by EMJ
Books and available from Publishing House (see contact details on this Web site)
and all good bookshops.
Copyright Vernon Coleman