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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a very common intestinal disorder. It involves abdominal pain with changes in bowel habits. IBS is described as a ‘functional’ illness — the intestines aren’t functioning appropriately although there is no structural damage found through diagnostic testing.

IBS is not a structural problem, meaning there is no anatomical change, nor is it biochemical or infectious in nature. To exclude organic bowel disease, tests such as stool culture, colonoscopy, etc. may be performed.

ibs symptoms

Women are affected about 2-3 times more than men, with the average age of onset being between 20 and 40.

What can cause IBS?

The exact cause of the illness is not known, but certain factors are known to trigger its onset, including:

  • Stress, depression and anxiety
  • Gastrointestinal infection
  • Food poisoning
  • Certain foods and drinks (e.g. alcohol, caffeine)
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Eating too quickly or too much
  • Some medication
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Genetic factors

Symptoms of IBS

ibs symptom

People with IBS have continuous or recurrent abdominal pain or discomforts that are relieved by a bowel movement. Some people with IBS have constipation, others have diarrhoea . Many people with IBS alternate between periods of constipation and diarrhoea . Other symptoms may include:

  • Cramps and bloating in the abdomen
  • Flatulence or wind and/or rumbling noises from abdomen
  • Mucus in stools
  • Neurasthenia symptoms such as palpitation, headaches, insomnia, and lethargy

How TCM may help

Chinese medical theories are generally based around the classical principles of Yin Yang and the Five Elements. It is a naturalistic science that is based on the premise that if the body is in balance, both internally and in harmony with the external environment then there will be good health. Traditional Chinese medicine did not have a category for what in modern times is referred to IBS. This condition would have been labelled under disease categories such as abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhoea , which are the primary diagnostic criteria for the syndrome.

In Chinese medicine, the spleen, liver, kidney, and large intestine can all play a role in the pattern of disharmony. An organ In TCM is not only viewed as an anatomical structure, but also as a set of systematic units that function together. Each organ has a specific meridian that stems from it and connects it with its paired organ and to various parts of the body. So when talking about a spleen deficiency or liver problem, it does not mean there is damage to the physical organ, in most cases.

IBS is a complicated disease, and often has a combination of patterns responsible for the resulting imbalance. Some of the common patterns associated with IBS include:

five elements
  • Spleen Qi deficiency: Common manifestations are fatigue and diarrhoea which is worse when they are overexerting themselves. This is often accompanied by abdominal pain which may be relieved by pressing over the painful area. Patients may also have gas and bloating.
  • Spleen distressed by dampness: The patient may experience symptoms of Spleen Qi deficiency along with a feeling of nausea or heaviness. The bowel movements may feel incomplete or lined with mucus.
  • Excess cold in the spleen: The patient may be “doubling over” in pain; feeling as if curling up will somehow offer relief. Here the patient cannot tolerate being touched. This pain may be accompanied by constipation.
  • Spleen and kidney Yang deficiency: Common symptoms include feeling cold or having cold hands and feet. diarrhoea often happens first thing in the morning which may contain undigested food particles. Other symptoms include chronic low back pain, low libido, frequent urination, or in severe cases, urinary incontinence.
  • Liver Qi stagnation: Patient may have pellet shaped stools and distending pain, particularly in the area below the ribs. There may also be nausea, belching or acid reflux. Symptoms can be triggered or aggravated by stress.
  • Disharmony between the liver and spleen: Common symptoms include abdominal distension and pain, alternating constipation and diarrhoea . Stress, frustration, and anger aggravate the condition.
  • Damp-Heat in the large intestine: Abdominal pain and diarrhea with a sense of urgency are key symptoms. The diarrhea is commonly yellow and explosive with a strong odour and a sensation of burning. In addition, there may be a feeling of heaviness of the body and stuffiness in the chest.

How we can help

IBS is clearly a complicated illness. Its many manifestations require very different treatment approaches in TCM. The patterns of disharmony mentioned above may even appear in combination and treatment must be adjusted accordingly. In any severe case of IBS, TCM treatment will be customised for the individual and classical herbal recipes will be modified for the patient.

Treatment with Chinese Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture combined for IBS aims to eliminate the underlying cause of the condition by relieving stress, bringing the body into balance, improving bowel function, increasing immunity against infection, and promoting health in general.

Book your appointment today

We are dedicated to helping you achieve the health and wellness that you desire. If you are interested, feel free to call us at our Frankston clinic on 9785 6688, or our Murrumbeena clinic on 9041 8879 to book an appointment today.