Common Digestive Conditions

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is IBS? 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic, functional gastrointestinal condition that affects the lower digestive system (the small intestine and large intestine / colon). IBS tends to have a fluctuating course. Many people who have been diagnosed with IBS feel frustrated at the lack of immediate solutions, or feel dismissed by the medical profession, which can lead to a sense of isolation and lack of support.

How common is IBS?

Irritable Bowel syndrome (IBS) is estimated to affect up to 1 in 10 adults, although many sufferers with IBS have not been medically diagnosed and therefore the real incidence is likely to be much higher. It is 2.5 times more common in women than in men, which means that 7 out of every 10 sufferers are women. People between the ages of 20 and 40 are most commonly affected but it can affect people of all ages.

young woman sitting in the bedroom on a bed and holding her stomach,abdominal pain

What are the symptoms of IBS?   

To be diagnosed with IBS you must be suffering with recurrent abdominal pain, this is the key symptom. 

In addition to pain, you should also have 2 or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pain related to defecation (passing a bowel motion)
  • Change in stool frequency
  • Change in the stool form / appearance

Other common symptoms include abdominal bloating or visible distension – people often say ‘I look 6 months’ pregnant’. Some people will find that they pass a lot of wind / gas.

How severe are the symptoms of IBS?  

The symptoms can vary from being very mild in some people to being very severe and debilitating in others. They may also fluctuate in severity in any one person.

What will the tests show?

If you suffer with IBS, all the standard tests will yield entirely normal results.  It is important not to self-diagnose as a number of conditions can cause similar symptoms to IBS, but will have a different treatment. For this reason it is important to arrange to see your GP/Family Doctor to arrange some baseline investigations.

How to investigate gut symptoms

What Causes IBS?  

As the name suggests, all functional gut conditions, which are now called DGBIs appear to involve a complex interplay between the mind and the body. There is generally no ‘one cause’, but a number of factors seem to play a role in the development of symptoms of IBS in any one person. These include: stress, previous infection, hypersensitivity of the nerves in the gut, which is called visceral hypersensitivity, altered functioning of the Gut-Brain axis, altered GM, low grade inflammation, food intolerance and altered gut motility.

Management/Treatment of IBS   

The management of IBS should be individualised and based on a person’s predominant symptoms, although there is some general advice that can be helpful to most people.

Our Advice  

If you don’t already have a diagnosis, seek an appointment with your GP/Family Doctor and keep a food and symptom diary in the meantime to try to help identify possible food triggers. 

If you have a diagnosis of IBS we recommend trying the First Line Approaches to begin with. If you are still suffering with gut symptoms having made these changes we recommend making an appointment to see a registered dietitian or trying The FLAT Gut Diet Plan. Doing your best to manage stress and anxiety, and taking regular exercise can all help to alleviate symptoms. Visit  our Self Care section for some wellbeing tips. Some patients may also be advised to take medication.

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