Irritable bowel syndrome: Profile of an invisible illness - Ottawa Invisible Illness

One scientific study reported in the Medical Journal of Australia tested what would happen when irritable bowel syndrome patients received psychotherapy instead of conventional medical treatment for their condition. The result was that symptoms among the treated patients improved dramatically. After receiving counseling for the emotional upsets, 89 percent of the patients reported less pain as a result; 96 percent had less diarrhea, 8 percent had less vomiting. Researchers who conducted the study concluded that "the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome were seen as a physical expression of emotions caused by recent loss or ongoing stressful life situations." (Mind/body health: The effects of attitudes, emotions and relationships)

Irritable bowel syndrome is defined as a "painful combination of cramping, diarrhea, and occasional vomiting." Johns Hopkins Medical School Associate Professor of Behavioral Biology William E. Whitehead has been quoted as stating that the "gastrointestinal tract is particularly susceptible to emotional stress and very readily comes under the influence of external factors and events." (Mind/body health: The effects of attitudes, emotions and relationships)

How does stress and emotion contribute to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Coordination of the gastrointestinal tract shuts down under stress. "Eating while under stress can result in stomach bloating, nausea, abdominal discomfort or cramping, and even diarrhea." (Mind/body health: The effects of attitudes, emotions and relationships)

What does this mean for Ontarian's with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? For one it means that patients with IBS who receive adequate treatment for their underlying conditions during the early stages (depression and insomnia being common and also invisible illnesses associated with IBS) should see a reduction in their IBS symptoms.

Where can Ontarian's with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) go for help? This will depend somewhat on how long the symptoms have been present. As mentioned earlier, treatment of underlying syndromes such as depression and insomnia during the early stages of IBS may alleviate the symptoms of IBS. If you have had IBS symptoms for an extended period a gastroenterologist referral from your primary healthcare provider may be required in order to determine the amount of damage (if any) has been done to your digestive tract.

Where can Ontarian's find additional information on irritable bowel syndrome? There are a number of books and online resources available to Ontarian's with IBS. Speak with your primary healthcare provider to find out if you have IBS or another gastrointestinal disorder. You may also find additional information on the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research website including this 30 second IBS test.

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