Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) describes a collection of symptoms, commonly including chronic abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and altered bowel habits. It is a functional disorder of the intestines, occurring in the absence of visible structural abnormality.
IBS affects up to 22% of people in the UK (Maxwell 1997) and is the most common functional digestive disorder seen by GPs. Women are 2-3 times more likely to develop IBS, and often suffer more symptoms during their periods. The condition often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. Predisposing factors may include a low-fibre diet, emotional stress, use of laxatives or a bout of infectious diarrhoea. It is typically a chronic, recurrent disorder, associated with substantial health, social and economic costs. Pain and impairment from IBS can lead to frequent doctor visits, hospitalizations and workplace absenteeism, and can cause depression.
The cause of IBS is unclear, but it appears that sensory nerves in the bowel are hypersensitive in people with IBS and may overreact when the bowel wall stretches. Intestinal muscles can be hypo- or hyperactive, causing pain, cramping, flatulence, sudden bouts of diarrhea, and/or constipation. The symptoms are usually triggered by stress or eating. Systematic reviews of the research literature suggest that conventional medications are of limited benefit in IBS (Akehurst 2001).
Akehurst R, Kaltenthaler E. Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a review of randomised controlled trials. Gut. 2001 Feb;48(2):272-82.
Maxwell PR et al. Irritable bowel syndrome. Lancet. 1997 Dec 6;350(9092):1691-5.
How acupuncture can help
Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may benefit IBS symptoms by:
There is consistent evidence that a course of acupuncture improves IBS symptoms and general wellbeing (Anastasi 2009, Trujillo 2008, Reynolds 2008, Schneider 2007b, Xing 2004, Lu 2000), though there are arguments about the extent to which the effect is placebo-related (Lembo 2009, Schneider 2007a, Lim 2006, Forbes 2005). As yet there is no satisfactory placebo/sham intervention for acupuncture so this is still a matter for conjecture. There are plausible physiological explanations for acupuncture's effects (see above) and it can promote mechanisms not seen with sham treatments (Schneider 2007b).
Acupuncture can be safely and effectively combined with Western biomedicine, and other treatments such as relaxation exercises, herbal medicine and psychotherapy. In addition to offering acupuncture and related therapies, acupuncturists will often make suggestions as to dietary and other lifestyle changes that may be helpful in combating IBS symptoms. Working with a supportive therapist can also help people suffering from IBS to change their negative health beliefs and improve their coping mechanisms, which can have a positive influence on both mood and symptoms.
For more info: https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs.html