There are many relatively simple treatments to try. People use different strategies to deal with ongoing irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Many people just accept their symptoms, live with them and ignore them as much as possible so that the symptoms are not in control of their lives. This is probably a very successful strategy as we know that many people in the general population who have irritable bowel syndrome never consult a doctor and are happy with simple medications or no treatment at all.
Some people go to the other extreme and embark on a search for a ‘magic bullet’ to treat them. They go from doctor to doctor, alternative practitioner to alternative practitioner, looking for the right test or the right treatment to sort them out. To a certain extent, this approach may work. The placebo effect – the response to a sham, dummy or pretend treatment – is very powerful in irritable bowel syndrome. So if you believe that a treatment will work, there is about a 50% chance that it will. The placebo effect can last for 3 months.
Hence every time you see another practitioner, of whatever kind, who ‘sells’ you his or her favourite treatment, you may get 3 months relief. Modern doctors probably don’t make sufficient use of the placebo effect. It does after all show something very exciting about the power of positive thought. We are, however, a little obsessed with ‘evidence-based medicine’. Rather than simply telling people that the treatment will make them better, we tend to weaken the effect by explaining that it works in a proportion of people, and here are the side effects. People looking for a magic bullet are usually disappointed. The plethora of books, websites, miracle diets and complementary medicines for irritable bowel syndrome all highlight the fact that there isn’t a cure. But different approaches work well for different people, and the trick is finding what’s best for you.
If you employ a ‘symptom-orientated’ approach to pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. This mean that various approaches to dealing with these symptoms are suggested in different chapters. If one symptom is worse for you, it might therefore be useful to start with that chapter to find some new ideas for dealing with it.
People are often willing to try complementary medicines for irritable bowel syndrome but are more reluctant to consider a psychological approach. Both, however, are worth considering. Indeed, cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnosis may be two of the most successful approaches to reducing the effects of irritable bowel syndrome on quality of life.