Irritable Bowels

Acupuncture for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

A man suffering abdominal pain

Unlike other bowel disorders, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) cannot be diagnosed by checking for physical abnormalities in the abdomen. It is therefore often diagnosed by the symptoms it produce (many of which can be treated with acupuncture) such as:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Frequent urges to go to the bathroom
  • Feeling of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement

Symptoms range from very mild to very severe and a person with IBS can have one, some or all of these symptoms.

Many people living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms do not seek help. Fortunately, IBS does not involve any permanent damage and the problem lies mainly with the discomfort and inconvenience of the symptoms. Irritable Bowel Syndrome can persist for years with symptoms that tend to appear in early adulthood, but it can occur at any age. Patients can experience symptom-free periods or have continuous symptoms.

It is unclear how many people are affected with IBS. The incidence has been estimated anywhere between 5% and 65% of the general population. Women experience IBS far more than men. Acupuncture can assist in many of these cases.

Related: Improve Your Digestive Health with Acupuncture

Causes of IBS

IBS is poorly understood and its causes are still unknown. There are however, different theories to explain why people develop IBS:

  • Diet ? IBS may be the result of an inadequate intake of fiber. As well, foods such as chocolate, dairy products, caffeine and alcohol may each trigger the symptoms of IBS, although there is no one food that triggers IBS in all patients.
  • Psychology and Stress ? Many believe there is a strong psychological link in the presentation of IBS. Stress, anxiety and conflict are known to aggravate the syndrome and some studies have found that IBS patients are generally more sensitive to pain in the abdomen than people without IBS.
  • Bacteria ? A type of bacteria normally found in the colon, but seen in the small intestine of IBS patients, may help to explain the cause of IBS. However, much more research is needed to determine if this is a true cause.
  • Hormones ? Some women with IBS may experience more symptoms during their periods. It is therefore possible that reproductive hormones play a role in IBS.

What is the treatment approach?

Our acupuncturists from the Pacific Wellness Institute in Toronto notes that in his experience, most IBS sufferers are under a tremendous amount of emotional stress (or are very sensitive to any stressful event) and display the signs of autonomic dysrhythmia (imbalance of the autonomic nervous system). Superficial acupuncture needling synchronized with certain breathing phases and posture during treatment is helpful in balancing autonomic nervous system function.

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