What is IBS?
IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is the name given to a chronic (longstanding) condition that affects the digestive system. Symptoms include constipation, diarrhoea (or both), abdominal discomfort and bloating. These symptoms can come and go and last for days, weeks or months at a time.
What are the symptoms?
- Abdominal pain or discomfort – which can be worse after eating and improves when you go to the toilet
- Bloating – your abdomen feels swollen, ‘tight’ or full
- Constipation – straining to pass stools, feeling like you haven’t finished, stools are hard and dry. This is known as constipation predominant IBS or IBS-C
- Diarrhoea – loose or watery stools and a sudden urge to go. This is known as diarrhoea predominant IBS or IBS-D
What causes IBS?
The causes of IBS are poorly understood for several reasons:
- We can X-ray the bowel and see its structure but can’t visualise how the bowel moves in an easy way
- The bowel is erratic, we can’t predict when it will move, so assessment would have to be over many hours and this is rarely possible
- IBS is not just one disease, it is a set of symptoms which may be caused by several factors interacting
- It is not possible to study the muscle and nerves in the bowel without a full thickness biopsy which is invasive and painful and risks complications
Why is research so important?
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Clinical research can provide information about:
- The cause of a disease i.e. what goes wrong in the body
- The links between a disease and other diseases or lifestyle choices
- How to best diagnose diseases
- How to care for populations of patients with a certain illness
- How to develop pathways of care
- How to treat, reduce or even cure symptoms or a disease
- How to prevent an illness
In 2018, there were 392 research publications into IBS. This is a big increase but there is still a long way to go. For example there were nearly ten times that number (2,899) on Inflammatory Bowel Disease and over 5,000 on colorectal cancer.
How can I be involved in research?
Research will develop better treatments for IBS. You can help by being involved. This could be by raising funds for a research charity, but the most important way is volunteering for trials.
Remember that if you volunteer for a clinical trial you might get access to a new, more effective treatment but you could end up on the placebo; and even if you are on an active treatment which works, that treatment will stop when the trial is over. But by participating you are helping medical science move forward, bringing the chance of a licensed treatment closer.
You can make an impact on research by signing up to ContactME-IBS. This is an NHS-owned national database of IBS patients wishing to know about research that they can volunteer for.
Research is so important and a vital part of raising awareness of IBS so please spread the word!