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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

by Dr Angela Jones(more info)

listed in ibs, originally published in issue 16 - December 1996

It is difficult to be sure whether irritable bowel syndrome is becoming more common or whether it is simply becoming more readily recognised by both the medical fraternity and patients alike. The symptoms can range from the irritating to the severely debilitating and often medical investigation will be necessary to rule out more sinister causes such as inflammatory colitis or cancer.

Furthermore, ongoing and careful surveillance is of the utmost importance during treatment as new conditions can develop at any time and there is a danger of inappropriate reassurance when investigations have been at one time negative.

These caveats aside, I have found irritable bowel syndrome a rewarding condition to treat with homoeopathy. I would like to tell you about three of my general practice patients who have benefited from different remedies. They are all elderly and their stories go to show that alternative approaches are not only for the young and trendy.

Mary is in her early seventies and has been widowed for nine years. She lives alone but is very close to her sister in law whom she sees daily. She has had a "nervous tummy" for most of her life but was finding it increasingly debilitating as she had to restrict her diet more and more in order to cope. This had a negative effect on her social life as she enjoys taking tea with her friends but found cream cakes both irresistible and indigestible.

Mary also had a tendency to diarrhoea in the morning. This had been going on for many years and was not associated with bleeding from the bowel or with weight loss. The diarrhoea sometimes drove her out of bed and left her feeling quite weak. Another bad time for her was late morning when she would suddenly wilt and would feel that she had to eat something. Her favourite foods were creamy, fatty foods and she had a very sweet tooth. She could be quite thirsty and liked drinking milk even though it could disagree with her.

I was getting a strong feeling that Sulphur would be a good remedy for Mary and this was confirmed by the fact that she was generally warm-blooded and that her appearance though neat was not 100% tidy as evidenced by the laddered tights and unpressed skirt. She also admitted to sensitive skin which was easily aggravated by ordinary washing with water.

Sulphur has proven to be a godsend for Mary. She takes a short course of three powders of the thirtieth potency about every three to four months when she feels her symptoms are returning. She has found that her bowels are far more regular and that she can tolerate her favourite foods, even enjoy them again. An incidental benefit was an improvement in her heartburn, a symptom which did not come out in the original history but which is indeed covered by Sulphur which can help burning pains that are worse for heat.

Anne's irritable bowel syndrome took a totally different form and required a totally different remedy. She is known to have diverticular disease of the colon. This is a condition which is thought to arise due to the Western diet of too little fibre. It results in the formation of small pockets in the colonic wall which have a tendency to become infected and can perforate and cause serious complications. Anne has had many investigations over the years and has had to take several prolonged courses of antibiotics to clear up infections Sadly, even when she does not have infections, her symptoms can be quite bad with severe doses of diarrhoea every day, the stool being mushy and offensive. She has severe urging and cramping pain prior to the motion which is relieved at once after it has passed and she was particularly distressed by a sensation of incomplete evacuation, as if there was always more stool to come.

The surgeons who had investigated Anne's case were unable to help her symptoms and she had been tried on all the standard antispasmodic medications as well as tranquillisers and antidepressants. She was understandably depressed by her predicament but this came out as an extreme irritability. She could be very irascible with her family and with her doctors. It was this combination of severe spasm in the bowel and an irritable nature that led me to try Nux vomica in her case. This remedy contains strychnine and other similar alkaloids in its raw form. Chemicals that produce severe muscular spasm in toxic doses, hence its beneficial effect on spasm when used homoeopathically.

Anne has Nux vomica 6c in her handbag and uses it whenever she feels her symptoms coming on. She has found it by far and away the most useful treatment she has had for her symptoms. When I suggested that we could perhaps look at her case in more depth and try to overcome her problem further, she gracefully declined, declaring herself content with her present state, much to everyone's surprise and delight.

Esme is the last case which I will tell you about this time. Her symptoms had also been present for most of her life but really began to disable her after her sister died, with whom she had lived for many years The chief symptom was bloating of the abdomen after food.

The size of her meals was diminishing day by day as she felt full after only a few mouthfuls and impossibly distended by gas. Certain foods were taboo, in particular cabbage and onions. Things were not too bad at the beginning of the day but by teatime had definitely deteriorated. In fact, she went into a general decline by about 4 pm but luckily picked up a bit later in the evening.

Esme was not sure why she was so much worse since her sister's death. She had grieved appropriately, the death had been expected and she was well supported by a close circle of friends. It was particularly surprising to her as the two sisters, though living together had had quite independent lives, belonging to different clubs and having different hobbies "The thing was, "said Esme, "that I always knew that there was someone there even if I didn't actually want to be in the same room." This, for me, was the clincher for the case. The remedy Lycopodium is one of the great remedies for abdominal disorders involving an excessive bloating and distension. One of the characteristic psychological features is that people who respond to Lycopodium do not like to feel totally alone but are quite content to have a presence in the next room. This feature together with the aggravation from onions and between 4 and 8pm made Lycopodium as near a "cert" as there can be in homoeopathy.

Esme responded well to Lycopodium 6c three times a day and I decided to increase the potency in order to raise her general level of health. After a few short courses of the 30c potency, she now feels as well as she has for years and is untroubled by her bowel symptoms for months on end.

Recent advice in the general practice literature on the management of irritable bowel syndrome has endorsed the approach of symptomatic relief for the individual patient ie antispasmodics for those with pain, antidiarrhoeais for those with looseness, laxatives for the constipated and so on. This has made me feel all the more confident in my approach to the problem, the only difference being that I choose to use the homoeopathic system of therapeutics wherever possible. I cannot stress too strongly however, that any unexpected change in the pattern of irritable bowel symptoms should always be reported to a medical practitioner as it could herald the onset of a new problem and should be properly assessed.

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About Dr Angela Jones

Dr Angela Jones works in NHS general practice and also privately, using homeopathy alongside conventional medicine. Dr Jones can be contacted via the Faculty of Homeopathy on Tel: 020-7566 7800.

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