What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
The symptoms of IBS usually appear when a person is between 20 and 30 years of age. They tend to come and go in bouts, often during times of stress or after eating certain foods.
Symptoms vary between individuals and affect some people more than others, however most people have either diarrhea or constipation, or bouts of both. You may also have mucus in your stools.
You may find the painful stomach cramps of IBS ease after going to the toilet and opening your bowels.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but most experts agree it’s related to an increased sensitivity of the entire gut, which can be linked to a prior food-related illness or food intolerances such as wheat, milk or sugar.
Psychological factors such as stress also play a part in IBS particularly if as individuals we have a tendency to “gut react” to situations.
Physically IBS can be linked by a malfunctioning Ileo Caecal valve – This is an anatomical “flap” that seperates your small and large intestine that should open and close. When it malfunctions it can be responsible for many symptoms including those associated with IBS.
Although the symptoms of IBS can be troublesome, the condition does not pose a serious threat to your health. For example, it will not increase your chances of developing cancer or other bowel-related conditions.
IBS is unpredictable. You may go for many months without any symptoms and then have a sudden flare-up. It can also take many months for your symptoms to settle down.
IBS can be painful and debilitating, and can have a negative impact on your quality of life.
Before you start treatment for IBS, it is a good idea to visit your GP to rule out other illnesses, such as an infection, coeliac disease (a digestive condition where a person has an adverse reaction to gluten) or chronic inflammation of the gut.
If you do have these other symptoms our experts are still able to support you, it is just important for us to know and for you to follow your GP’s advice.
Visiting the GP is vital if you have certain “red flag” symptoms that indicate you may have another serious condition. These symptoms include:
- unexplained weight loss
- a swelling or lump in your abdomen or back passage (bottom)
- anaemia (a lack of red blood cells)