IBS Awareness Month: Dr Dawn Harper addresses some common questions

IBS is a very common condition affecting as many as one in five British adults. In her new book, Dr Dawn’s Guide to Healthy Eating for IBS, Dawn Harper answers a number of frequently asked questions:

Is IBS a lifelong condition?

About 20 per cent of the population have IBS at any one time but actually around one in ten sufferers each year will notice their symptoms have subsided. It isn’t a condition that we cure as such but just because your symptoms are interfering with your life now, that doesn’t mean it will always be so. Most people notice periods when their symptoms improve for weeks, months or even years and some find their symptoms disappear completely.

Are there any long-term complications of IBS? 

People often worry about a possible link between IBS and bowel cancer, for example, but there is no evidence that there is any link here. Sometimes I meet people who have developed depression as a result of their IBS but that is because they have been really dragged down by symptoms and, hopefully, after reading this book you won’t be one of them!

Is lactose intolerance linked to IBS?

Lactose intolerance and IBS are separate conditions. One doesn’t cause the other but it is possible to have the two conditions at the same time.

Can IBS cause rectal bleeding?

IBS can cause constipation which in turn can cause haemorrhoids or an anal fissure (a tear in the delicate skin around the anus). Both of these can cause fresh rectal bleeding but IBS itself does not so blood in the stools should always be checked out by a doctor. It is usually something simple like piles or a tear but bleeding from the back passage can be caused by a cancer so should never be ignored.

What is post-infectious IBS?

Post-infectious IBS was first described after the Second World War when soldiers were returning from war having had bacterial dysentery. It has since become a well-recognized condition and has been described following infections with campylobacter, salmonella and shigella. Interestingly, it is uncommon after viral gut infections and generally occurs after a bacterial infection. The good news is that 50 per cent of people recover without the need of treatment.


Dr Dawn’s Guide to Healthy Eating for IBS is out now. 


Can’t sleep? Grab your diary…

Can’t sleep? The best way to get a more objective picture of what the problem really is, is to keep a sleep diary.

The sleep diary isn’t completely accurate, as you fill it in the following morning so you may forget the precise timings, but it is close enough to be useful.

This diagram shows a typical sleep diary for a healthy young adult. As you can see, this person goes to bed at some time after 10 p.m. during the working week, reads for 20 minutes or so, then turns out the light.

He is drowsing (entering the light stages of sleep) within 10 to 20 minutes and a few minutes later is sleeping soundly, which he does for the rest of the night. He then wakes with the alarm at 6.50 a.m. and gets out of bed shortly after 7 a.m. He stays up late with his partner on Friday and goes out to a party on Saturday night, sleeping in on both Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Once you have at least a week of these records, you should be able to see a pattern to your sleep disturbance, though the longer the period you keep records, the more solid the conclusions you will be able to draw.

It will help you to work out which of the causes of insomnia apply to you, and enable you to be in a position to decide on a plan to improve your sleep.

Beating Insomnia: Without really trying is out April 2016!

About the author:

Dr Tim Cantopher studied at University College, London and University College Hospital. He trained as a psychiatrist at St James’s Hospital, Portsmouth and St George’s Hospital Medical School. He has been a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists since 1983 and was elected a fellow of the college in 1999. Prior to his retirement, Dr Cantopher worked as a consultant psychiatrist with the Priory Group of Hospitals for many years, and he has published a number of research projects across the field of psychiatry. He is the author of the bestselling Depressive Illness: The curse of the strong (third edition, 2012), Stress-related Illness (2007) and Dying for a Drink (2011), all published by Sheldon Press.