stock-photo-abdominal-pain-in-a-woman-167916644As a busy gastroenterologist within the NHS in London, Dr Ana Wilson sees many patients with functional bowel problems. These can cause real distress and patients often experience years of symptoms and worry that they have bowel cancer.

Dr Wilson works with patients to rule out more serious bowel disorders and to advise patients on how to best manage their bowel condition so they gain some control over their symptoms.

What are functional bowel problems?

The term functional bowel problems is a general one that describes bowel disorders that cannot be attributed to any structural or biochemical problem in the gut.

As the name suggests, the problem lies with the function of the bowel. Typically, functional bowel problems involve issues with the transit of food through the colon, resulting in symptoms such as bloating, altered bowel habits (including diarrhoea and constipation) and abdominal cramps.

Functional bowel problems should not be confused with bowel diseases, such as coeliac disease, which is an autoimmune disease, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a structural problem.

The most common functional bowel problem is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), although food intolerance and food allergies can also fall under this category.

Diagnosing functional bowel disorders

Unfortunately, the diagnosis of a functional bowel disorder usually involves extensive tests to rule out some more serious diseases, such as bowel cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease. This process can be  traumatic and emotionally draining, which often makes the symptoms of functional bowel disorders flare up. To then be told, with your symptoms at their worst, that there is nothing physically wrong with you can be very confusing.

Respecting functional bowel disorders

Since they have no obvious physical cause, and there is no known ‘cure’ available, functional bowel disorders are all too often dismissed as something that the patient simply has to live with. However, for sufferers, the symptoms are as real and as uncomfortable as some of the bowel diseases listed above.

Dr Wilson listens to patients and their concerns and encourages you to recognise that you do have a problem that can be controlled, even if no physical cause can be identified.

She believes that the key to providing effective treatment for functional bowel problems is to respect your symptoms and the effect they have on you, and to offer practical, effective treatments that can improve your quality of life.