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  • Gathered Roots

Acupuncture and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine with possible symptoms ranging from stomach pain, constipation, and diarrhea, to bloating and flatulence. In people with IBS, the lower digestive system may react differently to normal body conditions, causing symptoms, even in the absence of any obvious medical problems. IBS is a relatively common condition, thought to affect up to one in five people. Although anyone can have IBS, it most commonly develops in early adulthood and affects more women than men throughout their lives.

IBS is a chronic condition that needs to be managed long term. Only a small number of people with IBS have severe signs and symptoms. Some people can control their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle and stress. More severe symptoms can be treated with medication and counselling.

The signs and symptoms of IBS vary but are usually present for a long time. The most common include:

  • Abdominal pain, cramping or bloating that is related to passing a bowel movement

  • Changes in appearance/form of bowel movement

  • Changes in frequency of bowel movements

Other symptoms include bloating, increased gas or mucus in the stool.

In people who suffer from IBS, certain factors may trigger symptoms:

  • Food – The role of food allergy or intolerance in IBS isn't fully understood. A true food allergy rarely causes IBS. But many people have worse IBS symptoms when they eat or drink certain foods or beverages, including wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, milk or carbonated drinks.

  • Stress – Most people with IBS experience worse or more frequent signs and symptoms during periods of increased stress. But while stress may aggravate symptoms, it does not cause them.

Causes and Diagnosis

The exact cause of IBS is unknown and in many cases, several contributing factors are thought to have an impact. The most common factors thought to contribute to the condition include:

  • Food – Certain food types are thought to trigger IBS symptoms more often than others, although this is very individual. Food intolerance should also be considered as an alternate diagnosis.

  • Digestive problems – Bowel contractions are often either too slow or too fast in IBS resulting in constipation, diarrhea or both.

  • Gut sensitivity – Some people have a more sensitive gut than others leading to an increase in pain perception.

  • Psychological factors – Stress, anxiety, panic disorder and depression are all psychological factors that can affect the normal functioning of the digestive system. Episodes of feeling stressed or anxious can exacerbate symptoms.

  • Hormones – The link between hormones and IBS is not clear, but as more women than men suffer the condition, it is thought that the cyclical patterns of hormones have their part to play. This is apparent both during the menstrual cycle and in menopause.

  • Gut bacteria – The gut bacteria, otherwise known as microbiota, is very important in gut health. Different strains of bacteria vary across people and may differ in those with IBS. It is important to support the friendly gut bacteria and protect the digestive system from bad or pathological strains.

  • Genetics – Research has uncovered a possible genetic risk factor for IBS. However, the precise nature of this is still uncertain and disputed by some scientists.

As there are no tests to diagnose IBS, a diagnosis can be made by a health care professional based on symptoms and other clinical information.


Treatment of IBS focuses on relieving symptoms so that patients can live as normally as possible.

There has been a growing demand for alternative, non-pharmacological treatments for IBS, including acupuncture.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the main causes of IBS are emotional disorders, stagnation of qi(chee), irregular diets, and external pathogenic factors.

At Gathered Roots Acupuncture Clinic we will make a treatment plan for you to release blocked energy and correct imbalances in your body, to release your stress and control your pain and your other symptoms. The treatment is weekly for at least 10-12 weeks and some people might need longer treatment depending on the severity of their symptoms.

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