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Tuesday, 28 September, 1999, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Doctors unmoved by bowel misery
Not all GPs are sympathetic to complaints of IBS
The distress and discomfort of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) earns little sympathy from many doctors, according to a survey.

The majority of US doctors interviewed believed that IBS, while unpleasant, was not a serious medical condition, while four out of five admitted that they did not follow established treatment guidelines.

Nearly a third of the doctors said that IBS was mainly a psychological problems, instead of a genuine physical complaint.

Even in the UK, support groups say that some doctors still have little time for patients complaining of IBS symptoms.

The condition, which affects thousands of women and men in the UK, is characterized by chronic abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements.

It can leave sufferers afraid to leave the house in case they urgently need to go to the toilet.

Worsened by stress

The root causes of IBS are still unknown, although attacks are thought to be made worse or triggered by stress.

It is suggested that the nerves lining the lower bowel are more sensitive than normal to bowel contractions and the passage of gas and fluid, leading to painful spasms.

Some patients have found that eating certain foods, such as dairy products or fatty foods, makes their condition worse.

The survey of three thousand sufferers and ordinary people found that IBS sufferers took many more days off work through sickness - 13.4 compared to 4.9 days.

Almost half the IBS patients said the condition limited their social life, holidays and travel.

Months of pain

Two out of five reported pain that was intolerable without painkillers, with nearly 70% saying they had experienced pain for more than three months in the past year.

Penny Nunn, a development worker at the UK support group IBS Network, said: "Some UK doctors are sympathetic and some are not. It's certainly a difficult condition to treat.

"Many of the women who come to us have already been through the mill as regards GPs, gastroenterologists and the like, and they are looking for a cure.

"But there are no quick fixes."

Doctors are currently working on guidelines for both patients and GPs on how to treat IBS.

The IBS Network offers advice on self-help programmes for the condition. It can be contacted on (0114) 2611531 (answerphone).

See also:

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