Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is it?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition which affects the digestive system.  IBS is more common in women than men and symptoms often first begin in the late teens to early twenties.  It is unusual to experience symptoms of IBS for the first time if you are over the age of 40.

Types of irritable bowel syndrome

There are three main types of IBS:

  • Constipation predominant
  • Diarrhoea predominant
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhoea

Symptoms

Symptoms of IBS may include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Constipation or diarrhoea (or alternating between both)
  • Bloating
  • Abnormal bowel habits
  • A sensation following a bowel movement that the bowels have not been fully emptied
  • Mucus in stools
  • Nausea

It is important to note that none of these symptoms are exclusive to IBS.  If you suspect that you have IBS you should seek medical advice to ensure that your symptoms aren’t in fact the result of other conditions such as coeliac disease, lactose intolerance, bowel infection, or other bowel disease.

There is no specific test for IBS – instead, other tests are performed to exclude similar conditions.

What causes irritable bowel syndrome?

The exact cause of IBS remains unknown; however certain factors have been identified as being likely to trigger attacks in susceptible people.  These can include food intolerance, infection, diet, stress and certain medications.

Treatment

Unfortunately there is no cure for IBS; however symptoms can be managed and controlled.  Identifying what triggers your symptoms is an important place to start.

Treatments may include:

  • Increasing fibre intake
  • Making changes to your diet (e.g. avoiding trigger foods, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, increasing water intake)
  • Pain relief medications
  • Medications/treatments to treat diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • Stress management
  • Seeing a dietitian

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