What is IBS?

IBS is short for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and is characterized by abnormal functioning of the bowel. It is the most common digestive disorder seen by doctors. It is sometimes called Spastic Colon.

IBS symptoms vary from person to person but typically include pain, gas, bloating, and either diarrhea, constipation or both. For people with IBS and diarrhea, urgency and frequent trips to the bathroom can become a nightmare that causes a paralyzing change in lifestyle. Some people are unable to travel or even hold a job due to the unpredictability of their condition.

Medically speaking there is no known cause or cure for IBS. Diagnoses involves ruling out other disorders that have similar symptoms including, but not limited to, colon cancer, celiac disease, Crohn’s Disease, colitis and bacterial infections. With IBS there is no damage to the intestines; rather it is the functioning of the bowel that is the problem. It is often when nothing else fits that the diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is given.

An often overlooked contributor to IBS is the effect that negative emotional experiences and trauma have on this disorder. Dr Robert Scaer, neurologist and researcher, includes IBS along with Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Migraine, Asthma, and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities as ‘diseases of trauma’.

Only two conditions need be present to constitute a trauma: a threat to survival and at the same time, a feeling of being helpless to do anything about this threat. It is easy to understand how a house fire, a car accident or a personal attack (mugging) could constitute a traumatic event. But other situations such as bullying by a parent, teacher or boss can become traumatic and have physical effects on the body as well.

For young children however, many situations would fit the criteria for trauma. Any type of abuse, whether physical, emotional or sexual, is severely traumatizing for children. But because children are completely dependent on adults, even disapproval or constant criticism can be experienced as a threat to survival.

Trauma-generated IBS is not a purely physical condition, nor is it a psychological condition. As Dr. David Berceli points out in his book, The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process, it is in fact a neurological condition. In other words, the way the brain stores and processes trauma is what leads to the symptoms of IBS.

Because IBS is a condition that involves both the mind and the body, any effective IBS treatment also needs to address both the mind and the body.