Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition affecting the digestive system. It’s what is called a ‘functional’ disorder – so the problem is with the function of the bowel and not an anatomical problem like an ulcer or a gallstone.
What is IBS?
IBS is a common condition – about 1 in 5 people experience it and it is thought to affect twice as many women as men. The onset of IBS is often when you are in your 20s, but it can occur at any point in your life.
Sometimes IBS is viewed as an “invisible condition” with no definitive diagnosis. This can be very frustrating to those experiencing it. Although there is no cure for IBS, you do have options for treating it.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
There are a variety of symptoms of IBS, which can be different for everyone and can sometimes mimic the symptoms of other conditions. The symptoms of IBS aren’t always constant; you can have “flare ups” at different times. Some common symptoms of IBS are:
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- Abdominal bloating
- Excessive wind
- Bowel movements occurring more or less often than usual
- Bowel movements that appear different than usual
- Mucus in your stool
- Faecal incontinence
- Back pain
What causes IBS?
The exact cause of IBS is not known, but it is thought that it might be related to:
- Gastroenteritis or other conditions that cause inflammation in the bowel
- Unbalanced bacteria in the intestines
- Intestinal muscle contractions
- Stress experienced at a young age, or currently
How is IBS diagnosed?
If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you should speak to your consultant.
At your appointment, your consultant will inquire about your symptoms and might conduct a physical examination of your abdominal area.
There isn’t one test to determine whether or not you have IBS, rather your consultant will need to do certain tests to rule out other conditions. Some tests that they might recommend include:
- Stool tests
- Blood tests
- Breath tests for bacterial overgrowth
- A colonoscopy
- An endoscopy
- Ultrasound, CT or MRI scans
How is IBS treated?
There is currently no cure for IBS, but there are different ways to treat the condition. These treatments are different for everyone, are can include:
- Diet or lifestyle changes (e.g. avoiding certain foods that cause flare ups, getting more exercise)
- Reducing stress
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Psychological counseling
You and your consultant can further discuss which treatment option would be best for you.
If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.