What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
There are medical explanations and labels for many gut problems, but the big exception is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is typically diagnosed when all the standard tests come back negative. IBS is a 'syndrome' rather than a 'disease', meaning it's a collection of symptoms that often go hand-in-hand, but which frustratingly aren't actually attributable to a specific disease.
IBS affects more than 20% of individuals with a long list of awkward symptoms that include abdominal pain, cramping or discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea and/ or constipation, mucus, excess wind, and indigestion. Only recently have we begun to decode the mysteries of IBS. Whilst we don't yet know exactly what causes it, a number of underlying factors have been put forward, which range from genetics, the immune system, infections and the microbiome, to diet, stress and even mental health.
Meet Dr Michael Webberley (MBChB MD FRCP)
Dr Webberley is a gastroenterologist who spent 10 years as Lead Gastroenterologist and Clinical Director with the National Health Service in the UK. Mike is passionate about preventive health, combining insights from both traditional and integrative medicine to provide more a holistic patient experience.
Dr Webberley has developed a range of health checks designed to help you unpack your mystery gut, and provide you with key insights to help you restore and optimise your health.
Gut Health Check
Since many gut disorders have similar symptoms to IBS, ruling out a more serious underlying gut disease is an important first step in troubleshooting the irritable bowel. This comprehensive panel of tests screens for all the usual suspects to help rule out an underlying gut disease. This combination of stool tests and blood tests screens for nutrient malabsorption, parasites, coeliac disease, bowel cancer, pancreatic function, inflammation, metabolic function, and also includes a full blood count to check for signs of anaemia or recent infection. If you're suffering from symptoms of IBS and are not sure where to start - the Gut Health Check is for you.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder where exposure to gluten triggers a severe immune response that causes inflammation of the lining of the small intestine, and can cause severe digestive problems. It affects 1 in 70 Australians who are mostly diagnosed in adulthood. This Coeliac Check blood test screens for antibodies to tissue transglutaminase and gliadin. If you have a family history of autoimmune disease such as thyroid disease, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, then you should consider screening for coeliac disease.
Parasite PCR Check
Some gut problems can be a consequence of an undetected gut infection. Research indicates that a significant number of irritable bowel syndrome cases could actually be due to undiagnosed gut pathogens such as Blastocystis hominis and Dientamoeba fragilis. This Parasite PCR Check stool test uses cutting edge multiplex PCR technology to look for the genetic fingerprint of a wide range of gut pathogens. Gut parasite infections are surprisingly common, and have been found to aggravate and even trigger Hashimoto's thyroiditis (a thyroid autoimmune condition).
FODMAPs are naturally occurring sugars found in milk and dairy products, fruits and vegetables, cereals and processed foods. These dietary sugars are poorly absorbed in the gut and in some people can cause symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. FODMAP breath tests, which you can do in the comfort of your own home, uses innovative technology to diagnose FODMAP malabsorption, the most common of which is lactose intolerance.
If the small intestine becomes overgrown with bacteria it can lead to malabsorption of key nutrients and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. This type of bacterial overgrowth is a known complication of medicines used to treat gastric reflux. SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) is also thought to be a possible factor in some cases of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Breath tests are considered first line interventions in the diagnostic workup of IBS symptoms and are recommended before changing your diet which can have adverse effects on gut microflora.
Helicobacter Pylori Check
H. pylori is a bacteria that infects the stomach, and is now known to be a major cause of peptic ulcer disease. One third of Australians are believed to carry the bug, but many don't realise they have it. H. pylori can damage the stomach's lining making it more vulnerable to stomach acid, and those infected are more likely to develop stomach inflammation and more serious conditions such as peptic ulcers and even stomach cancer. Unlike a blood test, this Helicobacter Pylori Check breath test can tell you if you have an active h.pylori infection.
The gut microbiome refers to the array of microorganisms that live in your gut (over 2kg of microorganisms in fact!). While bacteria in your gut may sound like a bad thing, they are mostly beneficial and essential for good health. The microbiome is influenced by diet, environment, exposure to antibiotics and chemicals, as well as infections. Dysbiosis is a condition where there's an unhealthy imbalance in the microbiome. This Microbiome Check digestive stool analysis measures and quantifies the bacteria and fungi in your gut, and shows you if you have an undergrowth or overgrowth in specific categories of gut microbe.
Leaky Gut Check
The lining of the intestine and gut microbiome make the gut highly selective in absorbing specific nutrients. This lining also provides a very tight defensive system that blocks unwanted materials from being absorbed. When this gut lining is compromised, unwanted substances can cross the barrier and activate an immune response. Blood tests which check for levels of zonulin, a protein that regulates the traffic of particles through the gut lining. When the body produces too much zonulin, in a condition known as 'leaky gut' or 'intestinal permeability', it lets foreign particles get from the gut into the bloodstream.
Meet Jennifer May (Adv.Dip. NutMed, ATMS)
Nutritional medicine is the study of the relationship between food and a healthy body. It involves analysing how nutrients are processed, stored and discarded by your body, and explores how what you eat affects your overall well-being. If you're serious about changing your lifestyle to improve your health, consider a teleconsult with our nutritionist Jennifer May. Jennifer, consults on a variety of health issues including hormonal, digestive, cardiovascular, immune, and blood glucose related conditions. Her key interest is helping people recover from stress, food intolerance and chronic illness. Find out more about Jennifer's work in her blog.
Want to know more?
Reach out to the team for for more information about our health checks, or to book a teleconsult with one of our specialists.
Red flag symptoms you should never ignore!
Red flag symptoms you should raise with your GP or gastroenterologist include:
- New symptoms over the age of 50
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
- Vomiting blood or black stools
- Unexplained iron deficiency anaemia
- Unexplained weight loss
- Jaundice which can indicate a liver issue
- Family history of bowel cancer or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)