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QI have been suffering from the embarrassing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome for a few years but recently it has become a much bigger problem. The effects have now started to interfere with day-to-day activities making it difficult to lead a normal life. I understand there is no miracle cure but what can I do to ease the symptoms? A Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the gut and many sufferers will empathise with the embarrassing symptoms you have.

Many things can trigger it, including stress and anxiety as well as allergies to certain foods and drinks. Common suspects would be alcohol, fizzy drinks, chocolate, caffeine, processed snacks and fried or fatty food.

IBS is a functional disorder with a number of symptoms, some of the most common being pain and discomfort in the abdomen that can often resemble a spasm, bloating or swelling, chronic diarrhoea, constipation or sometimes a combination of all of them. Symptoms such as the urgent need to go to the toilet, the feeling that you have not fully emptied your bowels and excessive wind can be uncomfortable and embarrassing.

An IBS-friendly diet would involve avoiding too much processed food, modifying the amount of fibre in your diet, and incorporating probiotics to help restore friendly bacteria and maintain digestive health. You could also try cutting down on your intake of artificial sweetener - found in most sugar-free foods and drinks - as these can irritate the digestive system.

As well as making these lifestyle and diet changes there are also a number of medications available. Anti-diarrhoea medicines such as loperamide and Imodium, for example, are well known and can help reduce the impact.

Laxatives can relieve constipation associated with IBS and antispasmodic drugs can reduce the effects of cramping and bloating, making symptoms more comfortable to deal with - see your GP about these.

Although easier said than done, try not to be embarrassed about suffering with IBS - it's something that affects many people and worrying about what others think will only make it worse. Try to follow these steps, stay relaxed and hopefully you will see some improvement. | Dr Joanna Longstaffe is the director of the Independent General Practice
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 22, 2013
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