By Majd Othman

KUWAIT: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common diseases that people have been hearing about a lot lately. But despite it being common, most patients don't know much information about it, and they face problems dealing with it and how to treat the painful symptoms. For some patients, IBS disease can affect them very badly, and prevents them from living a normal life due to its extreme painful symptoms that vary between abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bloating. Sometimes the patient can wake up from sleep due to extreme pain. On this topic, Kuwait Times spoke to Dr Ghanem Al-Salem, Consultant of Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology, and discussed more about the disease and what causes it.

Dr Salem pointed out that there are multiple factors that could affect the colon and cause the disease. "The colon could be affected by things that range from simple to more complicated things," he said. "The most common problem that we see in our clinics are patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, which is a functional disorder that doesn't cause organic or pathological problems such as colon cancer." He added, "Most medical examinations for patients come with normal results, but the patient would still have severe symptoms and won't feel well due to complaining from bloating, abdominal distension, change in bowel habits between constipation or diarrhea, while some patients may have mix between both combined with abdominal pain."

He added that there are other serious syndromes that could be an important alarm to dangerous diseases that require immediate medical attention, such as significant weight loss, blood in the stool or if the patient wakes up from sleep due to the severe pain.

IBS causes

Regarding the reasons behind the disease, Dr Salem said, "It is related to the lifestyle of the person. This involves the modern lifestyle that includes less exercise, depending much on transportations, less walking, communicating with people mostly through social media and not going out, and the type of food that has dramatically changed such as the excessive consumption of fast food. These all have severe effect on our bodies. In addition, we believe that stress also has a great effect. Most of us have jobs that we think about a lot, and we also have responsibilities towards our families and our future plans. That puts more pressure on our brains to process all that information, and that may affect our bowels." He explained that the excessive brain activity stimulates neurological cells, which in turn can make the bowel unstable with these symptoms.

Regarding the treatment methods, Dr Salem said, "If the doctor diagnoses the patients with IBS, we start to educate them more about the disease, because we think that the main goal or pillar of the treatment is to teach them the best way to deal with the symptoms by understanding the mechanism behind it. We help the patient as much as we can by showing them how their lifestyles should be changed."

"There are proven diets we can provide the patient with to reduce the symptoms," Dr Salem mentioned. "We think that regular exercise can help, with some medications to reduce these symptoms. Unfortunately, a complete cure or relief of those symptoms is not available. Sometimes we find it difficult with patients, as some of them will feel fine and the symptoms will disappear and may come back, but most of the patients will have some of these symptoms ongoing, therefore we try our best to provide help to minimize these symptoms as much as we can."

Regarding the most affected gender by IBS, Dr Salem said, "Studies showed that women are more affected compared to men, yet with my clinical practice, I think it is affecting both genders the same, and probably in Kuwait it is more equal between both genders due to the same lifestyle we live in and the same factors that affect us."

He added that IBS recently is more common between teenagers and underage kids more than it used to be, especially after the pandemic, due to the lockdown and the communicating with others that has been decreased which had a major psychological effect on them. He mentioned that there is a study waiting to be published which confirms the prevalence of irritable bowel disease among teenagers.