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A smiley face app to combat IBS

Smiley yellow faces are not just for emojis. We decided to use this familiar symbol on our new app to help people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome to identify whether supermarket products are suitable for them. IBS is a common condition which can be debilitating but we know that many IBS sufferers find relief if they limit their intake of a group of carbohydrates known as FODMAPs which are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. For this reason, our downloadable app, which is designed to be simple and intuitive, can read the barcode on over 100,000 supermarket foods and flash up a yellow smiley face if it’s FODMAP free, or a red angry face if it contains a lot of FODMAP ingredients. A neutral orange face suggests the food contains moderate amounts of the suspect foods. FODMAPs, which stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, include garlic and onion and wheat products.

The FODMAP by FM app, which is a collaboration between King’s College. London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, is designed to make it easier for people with IBS to follow restrictive diets under the guidance of a dietitian. It is possible to download the app, which costs £3.95, without supervision, but we believe that the complexity of the diet, and possible worsening of symptoms, means that it should be done with medical backup. It is also important that a person following a FODMAP exclusion diet is diagnosed with IBS and not other conditions which may have similar symptoms, such as Chronic Bowel Disease.

It is designed to help adults with IBS follow a three-stage diet which starts with excluding all FODMAP foods and then moves on to a stage where high FODMAP foods are reintroduced to see what effects that has on symptoms. The third stage is a management stage where the app helps someone keep to their individualised diet plan.

As well as helping people identify the foods they need to choose at different stages, the app asks people to input information about their symptoms every two weeks. This data is collected and can be shared with healthcare professionals if the patient agrees. It can be used to show progress and also show which FODMAP foods cause problems in the challenge phase.

We are now planning to monitor the people who are using the app and see if it does make a positive difference to their symptoms long term. We accept that this kind of technology will not be for everyone, but it will be a useful adjunct to help and support that is already out there for the one in 10 adults who currently suffer from IBS in the UK.

Dr Miranda Lomer
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