What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a long-term condition of the digestive system, causing bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. It tends to come and go in periods that may last a few days or months, affecting everyone differently; some experience mild symptoms, while for others it may be quite severe.
IBS occurs due to problems of digestion because of increased sensitivity of the gut. It comes about mostly during times of stress or after eating or drinking certain foods, often easing up after going to the toilet.
It affects approximately one in five people at some point in their life, usually developing between 20-30 years of age. It is a chronic condition that needs to be managed long-term. The condition is unpredictable, can be painful and debilitating, negatively impacting one’s quality of life. Though it doesn’t usually pose a serious threat to your health.
Symptoms of IBS come and go. It usually gets worse after eating when one might experience flare ups of the symptoms that may last some days and then improve, but don’t complete disappear.
Primary symptoms for IBS include;
- Abdominal pain and cramping, which is relieved after going to the bathroom
- Change in bowel habits
- Bloating and swelling of your stomach
- Excessive wind passing
- Experiencing urgent need to go to the toilet
- Feeling you haven’t completely emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
- Passing mucus in your stool
Secondary symptoms for IBS include;
- Lack of energy
- Feeling sick
- Bladder problems
- Pain during sex
These symptoms may impact day to day life and even induce depression and anxiety for some.
The exact cause for IBS is unknown, but it is associated with problems of digestion and increased sensitivity of the gut.
Problems with digestion: The body moves food through the digestive system by contracting and relaxing the muscles of the intestines. With IBS this process is altered, as food moves through the digestive tract too quickly or too slowly, causing diarrhoea or constipation respectively.
Increased gut sensitivity: People with IBS may be oversensitive to digestive nerve signals, whereby mild indigestion presents as distressing abdominal pain.
Certain foods and drinks can trigger the symptoms of IBS;
- Fizzy drinks
- Processed snacks
- Fried food
IBS can be diagnosed based on the primary, more typical, symptoms and the possible secondary symptoms that might show. As it doesn’t cause physical abnormalities in the digestive system, there are no particular tests, which can confirm the diagnosis.
Your GP will look for main symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and changes in bowel habit, in association with the need to go to the toilet frequently and relief felt after.
Blood tests can be ordered to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as an infection or coeliac disease, or intolerance caused by lactose or gluten.
Stool sample can be tested for calprotectin that is produced when the gut is inflamed.
Colonoscopy can indicate any abnormalities in the gut.
Further tests could be asked for if you present with symptoms indicating a more serious underlying condition, such as unexplained weight loss, swelling or lump in the stomach, bleeding from your rectum or anaemia.
Symptoms of IBS can be managed long-term by changing your diet and lifestyle, to avoid triggers.
For more severe cases causing discomfort, we can prescribe numerous treatment options to ease the discomfort and pain.
They help you pass stools. We offer bulk-forming laxatives, such as Fybogel, to help the stool retain fluids making it easier to pass; and osmotic laxatives, such as Lactulose, Movicol or Laxido, that increases the amount of fluid in your bowel and stimulate your body for easier passage of stool.
They help to reduce the symptoms and shorten its duration. It works by slowing down the muscle movements in your bowel so more water might be absorbed from your stools, making it firmer and pass less frequently.