I was recently sent a copy of a new book called IBS: Answers at Your Fingertips for review, and I have to say that I was extremely disappointed in this book. The last two books that I reviewed, IBS Chat and Romance, Riches and Restrooms were rather grand, and I had to give them glowing reviews, which is far less fun than ripping a book to shreds.
Unfortunately, IBS: Answers at Your Fingertips is if anything even more worthy of a glowfest, so that’s no fun at all. If anyone out there has just published a book called IBS – It’s All in Your Head You Big Freakshow then please forward a copy to me at your earliest convenience so I can trash it.
So, reluctantly, let’s get on with the glowing.
IBS: Answers at Your Fingertips is written by Dr Udi Shmueli, Consultant Physician and Gastroenterologist at Northampton General Hospital in the UK, and it uses a simple question and answer format throughout to cover all of the typical IBS questions – what causes IBS, what are they symptoms, what are the treatments, and so on.
There are a number of books that do this already of course, but there are a few reasons why this book is a bit special. Firstly, it covers a number of myths and specialised topics that I haven’t actually seen mentioned in other books. Here are just a few of the best snippets of info that you might not find elsewhere:
- IBS is not caused by a Western lifestyle or the ‘usual suspects’ of smoking, alcohol or obesity as it exists in every society that has been examined
- IBS is more common in women in most countries, but not India, Sri Lanka and Japan, where it is more common in men
- studies have shown that bloating in IBS is a real, not perceived, phenomenon, and the increase in abdominal circumference can actually be measured
- the idea that laxatives can damage the bowel if taken for too long is a myth, and patients are very unlikely to become dependent on laxatives
- in IBS studies, as many as 30% to 50% of patients will improve when given a placebo, or sugar pill, and this placebo effect can last for as long as three months.
These facts come in addition to very comprehensive chapters on each aspect of IBS, including separate chapters looking at IBS-D, IBS-C and IBS-A (alternating between diarrhea and constipation). There are a lot of useful suggestions on which treatments are most effective for which symptoms, as well as a good dose of realism (although not enough to depress you) about the fact that IBS can be tough to treat and we shouldn’t expect a magic bullet.
The fact that Dr Shmueli manages to make it clear that IBS is a tough cookie without turning the book into a hopeless downer is testament to another major strength of this book – the fact that it is clearly written by a practising IBS doctor who knows how to treat people like human beings.
Right from the introduction, when Dr Shmueli writes about doctor’s attitudes to IBS sufferers and says “Historically, blaming the victim was a common response to insoluble problems”, it’s clear that the author is not one of those unfortunate doctors who believe that IBS sufferers are malingerers and medical doctors are God.
When was the last time you read a book by a doctor who writes about hypochondria and admits that he had several ‘terminal illnesses’ himself in medical school, or quotes one of his old medical textbooks as saying “Half of what we know is untrue. The problem is – which half?” and says that this phrase applies just as well to his own book?
I also liked the admission that current medical knowledge is just that – what doctors believe to be the truth at the current time, rather than facts set in stone: “Since the dawn of history, people have reported symptoms that their doctors could not explain in terms of actual physical findings. The theories dreamed up to explain such symptoms in the past appear ludicrous today, and no doubt today’s offerings will amuse future generations.”
Despite this acknowledgement, there is still plenty of good, sound advice in this book, often with very interesting references to clinical studies. This is a great book for both the newly-diagnosed and the long-term sufferer. If all IBS patients had access to this kind of knowledge and empathy, we’d all be a great deal happier.
This is a UK publication, so some of the drugs and supplements may be unfamiliar to overseas folk, but the majority of the info is useful to all.
IBS: Answers at Your Fingertips is available direct from the publishers – see their website for ordering details.
Small disclaimer: IBS Tales is listed in the “Useful Resources” section of this book, and I was rather chuffed to see it described as a “fascinating and moving site”, although obviously that hasn’t affected my review in any way. The sports car did though.