The complex, yet relatively unknown Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the focus of a new study by a James Cook University researcher.
Andrew Birtles is the Principal Investigator and Psychologist in an IBS study which JCU is conducting in collaboration with Townsville Hospital’s Gastroenterology Clinic.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS, or spastic colon) is characterised by chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, and alteration of bowel habits. It has no known cause.
IBS can cause chronic pain, fatigue and other symptoms, and can lead to regular absenteeism from work or other duties.
Mr Birtles said the study was designed to offer people with IBS up-to-date information and skills to help manage the symptoms of IBS.
“Medication and dietary interventions certainly have a place in managing the syndrome, however for many people it is engaging in helpful behaviours and thoughts which will improve their situation,” he said.
Mr Birtles said the study offered access to an online resource to participants for eight weeks, which includes podcasts, handouts and links designed to empower the participant to take control of their situation.
“As it is a study, we ask participants to complete online questionnaires before and afterwards so we can assess how helpful it has been.”
IBS is a widespread condition, with about one in six Australians diagnosed with IBS nationally.
“For something so commonly occurring, it is surprising we don’t talk about it more,” he said.
“Because of the work I do – and I do talk about it a lot – I can almost guarantee that if I mention what I do to someone, they will mention that someone they care about has IBS.
“And yet, often people are still feeling quite alone in their distress, or believe that they can’t talk about it. This resource aims to give those people back a sense of control.”
Mr Birtles said pain or discomfort affected the quality of life for IBS sufferers, often making it difficult to basic social obligations.
“Worry or embarrassment about anticipated symptoms is also a concern, and the combination of experienced and anticipated symptoms has been linked with difficulties in relationships, sexual functioning, leisure, travel, diet and sleep.”
Mr Birtles encouraged people to take part in the collaborative study.
“The IBS Study is a free, online, self-directed resource developed with the intention of reducing individual’s symptoms of IBS and improve their quality of life,” he said.
“The people I’ve talked with do not simply want reassurance or to be told that their painful experience is ‘in their head’. Talking and behavioural strategies are really tactics to take up the reins of a body system which isn’t functioning quite right, and can make a big difference in gastrointestinal symptoms and quality of life”, he said.
“Similar approaches elsewhere have been effective in managing IBS.”
Mr Birtles said the online resource provided participants with:
• Up-to-date information on IBS, the diagnostic process, the digestive system, why it appears, and how to go about improving a patient’s situation
• Skills to engage in more helpful behaviours and thoughts to improve symptom management
• Information about the role of mind-body link and stress, and how it is not just “in your head”
• The ability to choose subject areas that are most relevant
• Relaxation strategies
• Links to other resources.
Issued: June 25, 2012
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