If you don’t suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), you may not give much thought to what a struggle it is. People who suffer with IBS, however, give it a lot of thought. They think about finding a bathroom quickly, whether their co-workers can hear their gut buzzing and burbling during the staff meeting, and whether or not they’re so bloated today that their clothes might not fit. IBS can be life altering, in that many sufferers choose not to go out, not to travel, and not to eat anything that might spark embarrassing symptoms.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is also called a spastic colon or mucus colitis. It involves abnormal colon motility, or movement, with periodic flare-ups in which the gut is so sensitive that it spasms when stimulated by things like food and stressful situations. IBS falls under the heading of a syndrome, because it involves a variety of symptoms that are unique to each individual patient. The most notable symptoms of IBS are diarrhea, and constipation—frequently in alternating episodes—abdominal cramping, and pain. It is also characterized by other gut symptoms, such as flatulence, bloating, nausea, and a very noisy gut. IBS is fairly common, affecting between 10 and 15 percent of adults, and about twice as many women as men.

What Causes IBS?

The cause of IBS is not entirely clear, but researchers believe that one factor is that the brain and gut don’t communicate as they should, which would account for why symptom flare ups when you’re under a great deal of stress. IBS doesn’t involve any kind of structural problem, meaning there is nothing anatomically wrong with your gut. It is also not biochemical or infectious in origin.

Western biomedical treatments usually involve targeting the symptoms of IBS, such as using laxatives, stool softeners, or stool hardeners. Your doctor might also suggest dietary modifications or supplements.

How Can Chinese Medicine Help?

Many IBS patients have turned to acupuncture and Chinese medicine to treat their condition, and for a good reason. Research on the effects of acupuncture in treating this condition indicates that acupuncture offers significant control of IBS symptoms.

While other diagnoses may be present, in most cases, your practitioner of Chinese medicine would identify your IBS as a disharmony between your Liver and your Spleen. This means that stress, anxiety, or emotional upsets have affected your digestion, and the symptoms from this disharmony have settled in your gut. This can be likened to the fight or flight response, in which your body ramps up some systems in order for you to be able to deal with a threatening situation, but shuts others down—like digestion and immunity. The issue is that in today’s world, many threats don’t subside quickly, and your stress or anxiety takes place over a long period of time, causing your gut to be compromised for months or years at a time.

Chinese medicine has a number of treatment methods to effectively calm your IBS down. First, your practitioner is likely to use acupuncture, as it increases circulation, supports healing, and affects your brain chemistry to produce an overall sense of relaxation. Your practitioner may also use Chinese herbs to augment your acupuncture treatments, as well as dietary changes that are unique to your specific circumstances. Lifestyle changes, such as exercise and stress relief, may also become part of your treatment strategy.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t have to go through life trying to pinpoint the nearest bathroom, dealing with the pain, or afraid that the noises coming from your gut will embarrass you. Check with your practitioner of Chinese medicine to see if acupuncture can help you.