The GP, broadcaster and author chats to us about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in light of her new documentary How to Stop Your IBS on Channel 5

What is IBS? 

“When I trained, IBS was described as a disorder of the function of the bowel, but today, we think of it as a disorder of the brain-gut axis and in “How to Stop Your IBS”, I speak to experts researching exactly what is happening in IBS.

“It is a very common disorder – statistics say it affects up to 20% of the adult UK population (with almost twice as many women as men being affected), but my personal opinion is that it is even more common than that, as I suspect a lot of people are struggling silently without ever having been diagnosed.”

What would you say are some of the common misconceptions about IBS? 

“I think some people believe it is ‘all in the head’ and a lot of people think it is a mild disease. It can be. Some patients have mild symptoms which are irritating but nothing more, but in the documentary, I meet people for whom the condition has had a huge and negative impact on quality of life, affecting relationships and the ability to hold down a job.”

What tests are currently available to diagnose IBS? 

“This is one of the frustrations for doctors and patients alike, as we don’t have specific test to make a diagnosis. In fact, IBS often becomes a diagnosis of exclusion. Having ruled out other diagnoses, we fall back on a diagnosis of IBS. I know some people feel a bit ‘fobbed off’ by making a diagnosis this way and we address this in the TV show. However, watch this space – a diagnostic test could be just around the corner and I get to interview the researchers working on just that.”

How did the three therapies – diet, hypnotherapy and yoga – explored in the programme compare? 

“It is difficult to compare them as each of our contributors tried a different therapy. IBS is a very personal condition and I often liken managing IBS to choosing a little black dress or a tailored suit – what works beautifully on one person, just doesn’t cut it on another. We tried to choose therapies which we thought would suit the individual and you will have to watch the show to see how we did!”

How can diet help to manage symptoms of IBS? Are there any particular areas that are useful to consider? 

“There are some lifestyle measures that we encourage all IBS sufferers to try where possible and that includes increasing physical activity if appropriate and finding time for relaxation. In terms of diet, it is important to try to eat regularly and to take time for your meals. Cutting down on alcohol, fizzy drinks and caffeine can help. Swapping caffeinated drinks for peppermint tea is a great way to start as peppermint is soothing to the gut. Changes in fibre intake can also help.”

How to stop your IBS is now available on-demand. How to Stop Your Migraine with Dr Dawn Harper is on Thursday 23rd September at 7pm, Channel 5.

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