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Having IBS means your bowel isn’t functioning as well as it should at the moment. It’s not classed as a disease. There’s no test for it. It’s what’s is known as a “functional disorder” – things just don’t work properly. The main causes of IBS are stress and aniety, and in some people, certain foods can trigger IBS. But whatever the cause is, reducing your anxiety will reduce your IBS.
IBS is very common. It is thought to affect between 5% and 10% of the population and is more common in women. Children also suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In total, between 5 and 7 million people are thought to suffer the pain, discomfort and inconvenience of IBS. The symptom of IBS vary from person to person. For some they are very severe, for others mild; there are many different symptoms. You might get all, or just some, of the symptoms at any one time, and you may not always get the same symptoms. You can have completely different symptoms from another person who also has IBS.
The most common symptoms are stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. Which symptoms you experience will depend upon which part of your digestive system is affected. IBS can affect any part of the digestive system from the mouth downwards. This is why individuals experience IBS in so many different ways. Some people with IBS also experience lethargy, insomnia, lower back pain, headaches and migraine, nausea and bladder symptoms. Many sufferers also report anxiety about their symptoms. For many IBS sufferers, the condition flares up during panic attacks.
IBS can be very distressing. But it doesn’t cause bowel cancer or damage to the bowel. IBS can’t turn into Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis; it is not an autoimmune disorder (such as arthritis or lupus). It isn’t caused by the presence of parasites, bacteria or toxins. If you’re at all concerned about any of your symptoms, or if you have difficulty swallowing, unexplained weight loss, bloating that doesn’t go away overnight, or persistent, painless diarrhoea, then you should seek the advice of your GP, just to rule out other problems. But IBS isn’t dangerous or life threatening; just inconvenient and annoying. And it IS treatable.
There is no one test that will show you have IBS. Because some IBS symptoms overlap with other disorders of the digestive system, tests may be carried out to rule out these other diseases. IBS is not a disease but a functional disorder – in other words, having IBS means that your bowel function is impaired, but there are no obvious abnormalities or other symptoms which would lead to a definitive diagnosis. Your bowel simply doesn’t work as well as it should. But if you can control the symptoms and pain of IBS, then you can live an IBS free existence. Hypnotherapy is proven to help the symptoms of IBS, and can help you with pain management. Hypnosis involves a very deep state of relaxation; and, just as you can’t be hot and cold, or hungry and full, at the same time, you can’t be relaxed AND anxious – relaxation and anxiety are mutually exclusive. It is well documented that your body feels less pain when relaxed. Hypnotherapy increases relaxation, and reduces anxiety and the perception of pain.
Peter Whorwell is Professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology at Manchester University Medical School. He has been researching and working with hypnotherapy as an effective treatment for IBS for many years. Clinical trials have shown that hypnotherapy effectively treats Irritable Bowel Syndrome in more than 70% of cases. Hypnotherapy for IBS works by teaching you to influence and gain control of gut function, as well as reducing anxiety and helping pain management. Hypnotherapy sessions are aimed at reducing the anxiety which is such a significant factor in IBS, and at “re-training” a patient’s stomach in order to get rid of the problem. The hypnosis is tailored for each individual so that someone with diarrhoea is asked to visualize building a dam, or blocking the river with rocks; an IBS sufferer with constipation would think about rocks blocking the flow, and imagining sweeping these obstacles away.
There are two theories why hypnotherapy works to help IBS. One is that increasing relaxation and reducing anxiety means that the bowel reacts less, and symptoms lessen; the other is that hypnotherapy affects the anterior cingulate cortex, which experiences pain. Hypnosis affects the mind, and it is unarguably the case that the mind has an effect on bodily function – this is exactly what is meant by psychosomatic illness. Psychosomatic illness is not, as many people think, an imaginary illness, but one in which your thoughts and state of mind have in fact caused the symptoms. There are many other illnesses which are made much worse by stress – such as tinnitus and restless leg syndrome. By treating the mind – changing your thoughts, beliefs and ideas – you can treat your symptoms.
It is not really known what causes IBS. However, many individuals report that they first noticed their symptoms around the same time as experiencing a very stressful event – a new job, moving house, or illness or death of someone close to them, for example. Others say that their IBS first became noticeable after having gastroenteritis (sometimes known as gastric flu) – vomiting and/or diarrhoea. Whilst the causes of IBS are unclear, there is widespread agreement that IBS is worsened by stress and anxiety.
The stomach is also known as the secondary nervous system (in medical terms, the “Enteric Nervous System”). Many individuals report that at times of anxiety and stress, their stomach “turns over”, “churns” or they get “butterflies” – you may feel nauseous, suffer with pain, or even with vomiting and/or diarrhoea. When you experience stress and anxiety, your body automatically responds – it makes chemical and physical changes which, historically, gave us the best chance of surviving what is threatening us – this is known as the “fight or flight response”. This works well when the threat you are facing is, say, a fierce animal or an angry person, but doesn’t work at all to deal with most of modern life’s difficulties – stress at work, emotional problems, fear of flying, money worries, worrying that we are ill, or just thoughts going round and round in our heads. However, your body still responds in the same way to these modern day “threats” as it did to physical threats in the past for example producing adrenalin (which enables us to run faster or fight more aggressively), and also producing other chemical changes which encourage emptying of the stomach – you run faster and fight better on an empty stomach – causing you to feel sick or need the loo. The “fight or flight response” – our body responding to stress by enabling you to run and fight better – exist because these abilities give you a better chance of survival. This is why you may hear people talk of a “gut reaction” or of feeling “sick with worry”. Because the stomach responds to stress in this way, it is often the first symptom you notice when you are anxious. It is thought that people who suffer from IBS have a bowel which is particularly responsive to stress. Also, when you notice a problem with the body, such as the discomfort and inconvenience of IBS, you tend to pay it more attention than you otherwise would, and you worry about it, increasing the level of stress and anxiety you feel,. In turn this produces more IBS symptoms. You then worry more about the pain and the symptoms, increasing your stress levels and upsetting your stomach again. It’s a vicious circle.
Many sufferers of IBS find that certain foods trigger their symptoms. Try keeping a diary of everything you eat and drink for two weeks, with a note of when your IBS symptoms flared up. This will help you to identify which foods you are sensitive to. If for example you notice your IBS symptoms after drinking coffee, and this happens on a number of occasions during the time you keep your diary, then try cutting out coffee for a week, whilst continuing with the diary. If cutting out the food or drink makes no difference then it may simply have been coincidence that your symptoms flared up afterwards; however your diary shows that cutting it out lessens your IBS symptoms, then it is likely that it was a trigger and you should continue to exclude it from your diet. You can continue this trial and error approach, gradually identifying and cutting out one type of food or drink at a time.
IBS is thought to be particularly affected by the following, but every individual with IBS is different and you should try and discover, by keeping a food dairy, what it is that triggers your own IBS. Bear in mind that for some people food does not seem to trigger IBS:
Diary products – milk, cream, ice cream and sour cream (and products containing these ingredients) contain lactose which can be hard for some individuals to digest, thereby triggering IBS. However the bacteria found in yoghurt and cheese is thought to help digest the lactose, and do not seem to be a trigger for IBS.
Some vegetables and pulses – cabbage, broccoli, onion and beans produce excessive gas and can cause painful cramping for people with IBS. Others however find that these foods help to reduce symptoms.
Citrus fruits – lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits seem to worsen IBS in some sufferers
Eat small meals at regular intervals – and try not to skip meals. Smaller meals are easier to digest than large meals. Many sufferers of IBS report symptoms flaring up after over eating.
Drink six to eight small glasses of fluid every day – try to avoid caffeine and fizzy drinks, although unless you are very sensitive to caffeine, the odd cup of coffee now and then won’t be a disaster. Tea, diluted soft drinks, still water and herbal teas are fine – mint tea is particularly good for helping an upset stomach. There is high water content in these fluids – this both aids the digestion and prevents dehydration if your IBS symptoms include diarrhoea.
Avoid artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol – sugar free mints and gum often contain these
Avoid excessive alcohol.
Keep a food diary to identify which foods and drinks make your IBS worse, and then try cutting out these foods or drinks to see if there is an improvement in your symptoms when those things are excluded. Eliminate them ONE AT A TIME from your diet for 10-14 days and note down whether your IBS flares up less during this period.
Physical exercise improves digestion and helps anxiety and stress. This need not involve going to the gym or for a run – gardening, cleaning or any physical activity will do!
Relaxation techniques and self hypnosis have both been shown to be hugely helpful in relieving the symptoms of IBS.
The therapists at this south Manchester hypnotherapy clinic are Manchester’s top independently rated therapists. They specialise in anxiety, insomnia, IBS and phobia treatment. If you are looking for hypnotherapists in south Manchester to help IBS, stress and anxiety, claustrophobia, fear of flying, emotional problems such as jealousy and insecurity, panic attacks, or low self esteem, then go to any of the independent websites which list and give reviews of hypnotherapists (for example www.freeindex.co.uk – you can also see reviews on Google) and see what others say about us. If you would like further information about hypnosis in Manchester, for insomnia, to stop smoking, tinnitus, self esteem and confidence, depression, for help with weight loss, to stop nail biting and other bad habits such as teeth grinding, or for any other problem, please call 07779 575 816 for a free confidential discussion.
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