Could this drug cure IBS?


It's Britain's most common digestive complaint and affects a third of the population at some point in their lives.

Twice as many women are affected by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) as men - more than one in five at any one time.

But sufferers complain there is little effective treatment for the condition.

Now, however, a new drug could be about to bring fresh hope to one in four sufferers.

The treatment - called Tegaserod until its brand name is decided - is based on research linking the illness to the body's natural chemical serotonin.

It is currently on trial and if approved by the Medicines Control Agency, the body which licences all drugs in Britain, could become available on prescription by October.

IBS is a chronic disorder of the gut that can lead to depression, nausea, embarrassment and constant tiredness.

Classic symptoms include severe abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhoea, stomach bloating, headaches, back pain and excessive wind.

Although some people suffer all these symptoms, sufferers are usually split into three groups: those who suffer diarrhoea, those who suffer constipation and those who suffer both.

The new treatment should be of particular help to patients who suffer badly with constipation.

Though most assume the illness will cause only minor health complaints, hundreds of sufferers complain that IBS affects their ability to lead a normal life.

Over two fifths of sufferers claim it affects their ability to work, socialise, travel and eat certain foods. The condition can even affect their sex lives.

Typical foods associated with triggering IBS are fibre and spicy foods such as curry and cous cous. But patients say anything from dairy to fruit and vegetables can trigger an attack.

Hundreds of sufferers have such severe symptoms that they are hospitalised in the UK each year. It has even been known for sufferers, driven by terrible pain, to commit suicide.

Despite the large number of sufferers, so far very little conclusive research has been carried out into the causes, diagnosis and treatment of IBS.

However recent trials into serotonin - one of the body's natural chemicals thought to aid digestion - is proving to be a step forward for IBS sufferers.

Dr Alasdair Forbes, a gastroenterologist at St Mark's Hospital, London, who is carrying out the trials, says the new treatment will help to regulate certain chemical processes in the gut.

The new drug is said to stimulate serotonin receptors in the gut. This has a pain-relieving effect and stimulates the gut into working more quickly.

Although the drug is not a miracle cure, Dr Forbes claims it has been found to improve symptoms by 15 per cent more than other conventional drugs.

'We believe one in four IBS patients will benefit from the drug,' he said. 'Serotonin is an important development in IBS research and is beginning to bear some fruit.'

Dr Forbes admits IBS sufferers are often dismissed by doctors, but says the future is looking brighter.

'There could be an effective treatment on the horizon and finally sufferers are being taken seriously by gastroentologists,' he said.

A spokesman for the Medicines Control Agency said: 'If the safety and efficacy of the drug meets the relevant criteria required by the MCA, then it will be granted authorisation.'

The new drug is welcomed by the Digestive Disorder Foundation.

'This is an extremely exciting development for IBS sufferers,' says spokesman Rhonda Smith.

'Evidence so far suggests it could be an effective treatment in the future. However, the drug is tailored to sufferers of constipation dominant IBS. It is important to note that not all IBS sufferers will benefit from the drug.'

Click on the links below for our guide to IBS, how to help treat it and one woman's experience.

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