The link between IBS and allergies

Published: 23rd June 2008
Views: N/A

Despite the fact that IBS is the most common gastro-intestinal disorder seen by gastroenterologists today, very little is actually known about what causes it. Recently, however, researchers at Rush university in Chicago discovered that a significant number of people with allergic or atopic conditions such as rhinitis, asthma and eczema also have symptoms of IBS and found a clear link between IBS and allergies. This of course could have implications in the future regarding possible treatment options for IBS.

The study

The Chicago study led by Dr Mary C. Tobin and her colleagues involving 125 adults found that the prevalence of IBS was higher in those with seasonal rhinitis (2.67 times) and atopic eczema (3.85 times) and 12 out of 41 of the patients had both asthma and IBS. Tobin et al found a clear link between Atopy and IBS in this study and concluded that people in this sub group of IBS, or those who have atopic IBS should be differentiated from those with non-atopic IBS due to the fact that they could have "distinct pathophysiologic features that could benefit from specific therapeutic interventions". This means that those with atopic IBS could perhaps find more relief by having treatment plans formulated that take into consideration other factors related to their allergies as well as their IBS symptoms.

What is IBS?

IBS is not a disease and is better described as a collection of symptoms which include abdominal pain and bloating along with abnormal bowel movements resulting in diarrhoea, constipation or both. Other symptoms can include excessive flatulence (wind), mucous in the stools, a sense of urgency and straining whilst trying to perform a bowel movement. What makes IBS difficult to treat is that no two people will present with exactly the same symptoms or degree of severity, making any effective treatment plan for IBS quite complex and more a process of trying various options to see what works.

Also, rather than there being one single identifiable cause of irritable bowel syndrome; it would appear instead that many factors are involved which can include the likes of food intolerances, bacterial overgrowth, enzyme deficiencies, lifestyle and stress. Although stress itself doesn't cause IBS it can make the symptoms of IBS much worse. What is known about IBS is that there is no cure and no single treatment plan that is suitable for all IBS sufferers.

Approximately 20% or 1 in 5 of the UK population suffers from IBS although this figure could be higher. In the past there were some difficulties associated with diagnosing IBS as up until very recently, IBS was only diagnosed when all other possible conditions had been ruled out, which takes time. Also, many people, particularly those with milder symptoms, may not seek help for their symptoms so are likely go undiagnosed.

Many previous studies have shown that exposure to certain allergens can produce symptoms of IBS in some people but if, as this latest study suggests, there is a clear link between IBS symptoms and atopic allergies, then this could open the door for new ways of treating at least some groups of people with IBS.

What is meant by Atopic IBS?

Atopy is a term used to describe conditions that arise as a result of an allergic reaction such as asthma, atopic eczema, atopic dermatitis and hay fever, so people with atopic IBS are those with symptoms of IBS who also have one or more co-existent allergic conditions. It is believed that around 15% of the population suffer from atopic conditions.

Why is there a link Between IBS and Allergies?

No one really knows why although it is thought that mast cells in the gut may be activated by allergens and set off the symptoms of IBS. Many people have found that by eliminating food that triggers their IBS they can obtain a significant amount of relief. Also, some people when taking antihistamines to treat their allergic conditions have also found that their IBS symptoms ease off at the same time.

Currently, treatment for IBS involves finding ways of dealing with the symptoms, which basically means diet and lifestyle changes along with anti-diarrhoeal agents for diarrhoea, laxatives for constipation, painkillers for pain and even low dose antidepressants to promote normal bowel movements. Non-drug treatments for IBS include probiotics, herbal remedies and various supplements and digestive aids. The identification of a link between allergies and IBS could perhaps pave the way for more effective forms of treatment for IBS sufferers who are also suffering from allergic conditions. No doubt future research will reveal more.


The author- Dave McEvoy is an award winning personal trainer with over 20 years experience; he has also suffered from IBS for 15 years. For more information please come a visit our site.

Report this article Ask About This Article

More to Explore