Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is an intestinal disorder causing a variety of symptoms, in terms of modern medicine. People with IBS may suffer from non-cardiac chest pain, non-ulcer dyspepsia, chronic constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and irregular bowels, which no structural or biochemical cause can be found.
Irritable bowel syndrome usually begins in the first three decades of life and may affect up to one-quarter of the population in industrialized countries. The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown, but stress, depression, hypersensitivity to certain hormones, and pressure from gas, diet, and medications may be contributing factors.
Treatment in modern medicine ranges from stress reduction and diet therapy to the use of antispasmodic drugs, antidepressants, and substances that regulate the amount of water in the intestines and thereby prevent constipation and diarrhea. All these treatments tend to be palliative in nature.
Understanding in Traditional Chinese medicine
Irritable bowel syndrome is considered to be primarily a disorder of the Qi relating to the Liver and the Spleen, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Liver Qi Stasis: Symptoms include abdominal pain and distention, constipation, frustration, a high stress level, and irascibility. There also may be hypochondriacal discomfort.
Spleen Qi Deficiency: Symptoms include abdominal distention and discomfort, diarrhea or loose stools, tendency to worry, fatigue, and poor appetite.
Liver Invading the Spleen: Symptoms for this presentation include all those listed under Liver Qi Stasis and Spleen Qi Deficiency, with alternating diarrhea and constipation.
Treatment in Traditional Chinese medicine
The treatment principle for IBS is to relieve the Liver Qi Stasis, strengthen the Spleen Qi, harmonize the Liver and Spleen, and eliminate the Dampness or Damp-Heat. Natural Herbs are usually for balancing the Qi of the Liver and the Spleen according to the cause of the problem.
Liver Qi Stasis might be treated with a combination of herbs such as Radix Bupleuri, Radix Paeoniae Lactiflorae and Rhizoma Cyperi Rotundi. An addition of Radix Ledebouriellae Divaricatae may be used to alleviate intestinal Wind caused by the constrained Liver Qi. The patent herbal remedies for treating this kind of IBS include Xiao Yao Wan.
Spleen Qi Deficiency may be treated with herbs such as Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae and Radix Codonopsis. A combination of these herbs may be used if the Liver is Invading the Spleen. Other herbs may be used to balance symptoms of constipation and diarrhea. For example, the addition of Radix Aucklandiae Lappae, Rhizoma Cimicifugae, and Rhizoma Atractylodis may control diarrhea, cramping, and pain, while constipation may be treated with the addition of Fructus
Aurantii Immaturus. The patent herbal remedies for treating this kind of IBS include Shen Ling Bai Zhu San and Si Shen Wan.
Acupuncture treatment can also be used in addition to herbal medicine.
Common Patterns of Disharmony in Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Research on IBS & Chinese Herbs: A recent study (Journal of the American Medical Association 1998; 280(18): 1585-1589) shows strong scientific support to treating IBS with Chinese herbs. This study clearly shows that Chinese herbalism is most effective when each patient is treated not only for their condition, but also for their bodily constitution and other presenting symptoms. According to the principles of Chinese medicine, each patient must be treated as an
individual. Optimal results will be obtained with both herbs and acupuncture when specific treatments are customized for each patient.