Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common condition that disrupts the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation.

CAUSES OF IBS

The exact cause of IBS is yet to be fully understood, many suggest that inflammation, infections and certain diets can lead to IBS, however this has not been proven. When digesting food, the muscles of the intestines will squeeze and relax in a regular rhythm. In IBS this is not the case as food moves either too slowly or too fast – such with diarrhoea and constipation.

SYMPTOMS OF IBS

IBS symptoms can vary person to person. Some who have IBS may not have continuous symptoms while others can have them to the extent that it affects their quality of life.

Most common symptoms:

  • Abdominal (stomach) pain and cramping
  • Alteration in bowel movements
  • Stomach bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Urgent need to visit the toilet
  • Constant feeling of not fully emptying bowels
  • Passing mucus

IBS sufferers can harbour further symptoms such as nausea, feeling lethargic, back or joint pain, discomfort during sexual intercourse and incontinence.

DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT 

Although IBS can typically be diagnosed on symptoms alone, if it could be linked to other bowel conditions, further tests will be required. This could be assessed by arranging a blood test or providing sample stools. If you have unexplained weight loss, anaemia, swelling/a lump in your stomach/back passage, or bleeding from your rectum, additional tests will be a necessity such as flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.

 

There are treatments that can help to settle flare-ups and prevent complications:

Lifestyle

To manage or even control IBS, changing your diet can make a significant difference. Unfortunately there is not a diet that will suit everyone as this syndrome is very individualistic, however a popular technique to aid you in this process is to keep a food diary so ‘trigger foods’ can be identified. Depending on your specific symptoms, fibre (soluble or insoluble) can be monitored as well as potentially utilising the low FODMAP diet (FODMAPs are certain carbohydrates (sugars) that are found in foods – they are osmotic (means they pull water into the intestinal tract), may not be digested or absorbed well and could be fermented upon by bacteria in the intestinal tract).

 

Reducing stress by exercising has reportedly benefitted sufferers and your GP can advise you on what form of exercise would be best for your own personal circumstance.

 

Probiotics & Medicines

Probiotics can supplement your diet and, despite there being little evidence, many have claimed they helped relieve their symptoms of IBS. You are advised to take this for at least four weeks to ascertain its effectiveness.

Drug treatment to help relieve the symptoms of IBS are available such as laxatives, antispasmodics, anti-motility medicines and low-dose antidepressants.

 

LIVING WITH IBS

The most useful method sufferers find, is keeping a food diary. As well as monitoring food intake, it can help you identify if something is making your symptoms worse or better. Depending on what particular symptoms you have, your dietician can advise you further and recommend what your intake should consist of (with particular reference to fibre). Alongside reducing stress in your life where possible and to regularly exercise, the symptoms have potential to greatly lessen.

The NHS offer a community forum on IBS which many affected by the syndrome find helpful. Here at The New Malden Diagnostic Centre we have a team of highly experienced gastroenterologists, colorectal and general surgeons who specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of gastrointestinal disease as well as pancreatic disorders.

If you feel you need advice and help managing your condition, or you are yet to be diagnosed but feel you have symptoms, please do not hesitate to get in touch, by calling 020 8942 6555 or visiting our website.