Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is incredibly common with numbers suggesting it is present in 10-20% of the population. Symptoms tend to present when people are in their twenties or thirties, and it is usually possible to make a diagnosis with your doctor based on symptoms rather than endless tests and investigations.
IBS can constantly rumble on with mild symptoms or flare up and cause fairly debilitating symptoms. Fortunately, IBS does not cause any serious health implications, but it can have an impact on peoples day to day lives. The predominant symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome vary from person to person. Some struggle with constipation, others with diarrhoea, and for some pain and bloating with others varying between episodes of a combination of these. If the main or most common symptom you suffer from is constipation then this is known as constipation-predominant IBS where people suffer from episodes of hard stools and decreased frequency of passing. Painful or having to strain to pass stools can also be related symptoms to it. Around one-third of people with IBS suffer from constipation-predominant IBS.
There are ways to help improve the symptoms of constipation-predominant IBS. These include lifestyle changes such as doing regular exercise, staying well hydrated, and also increasing the amount of fibre in your diet, although you should do this slowly. Medication can also be used to treat constipation and these are known as laxatives. Some laxative medication can be brought over the counter and your local pharmacist can give you advice on what is best for you however it is best to your doctor before you start taking it especially if you do not have a confirmed diagnosis of IBS yet. There are also stronger laxative medications that can be prescribed by your doctor if it is deemed to be needed.
You should book a routine doctor’s appointment if you are experiencing symptoms of IBS. This is so that the doctor can help rule out any other causes of your symptoms and confirm IBS as the likely cause. There is no specific test for IBS and so it is what is called a diagnosis of exclusion, where other conditions are ruled out so that IBS can then be confirmed as the diagnosis. If you have any blood in your stools, have unexpectedly lost weight, have a prolonged change in bowel habit (2 weeks) or you have any other symptoms with it then you should see your doctor.
The doctor will ask you about your symptoms, your medical history, any relevant family medical history, and what medications you are currently taking. They will likely have a feel of your abdomen, listen to see if they can hear bowel sounds, and potentially do other tests such as a blood test or even if necessary what is called a PR examination, which is where the doctor has a feel of your back passage to see if they can feel any hard stool to confirm constipation. They will discuss with you a likely diagnosis, recommend lifestyle changes, and potentially prescribe medication if it is required.