Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects the bowels and digestive system. It causes symptoms of tummy discomfort and bloating and often associated with changes to bowel habits like pooing more or less often. IBS is a common condition that isn’t life-threatening and is not associated with any severe bowel conditions, like colon cancer. It can have a big impact on people’s everyday life and therefore can be a point of frustration for many people. The cause of IBS is still largely unknown. Research has shown that the bowel becomes over-sensitive to very mild stimulation causing a host of varied reactions. IBS is also far more common in women than in men, and for this reason, some believe hormones may play a role.
People who suffer from IBS tend to experience tummy cramps which feel better after their bowels have been opened. They may feel quite gaseous and bloated, passing wind more frequently. Some people experience diarrhoea, others can experience constipation, and some have a mix of both constipation and diarrhoea. It’s not unusual for symptoms to be accompanied by anxiety or depression, tiredness, nausea, and lack of energy. Symptoms of IBS are usually not constant, they can come and go in flares - some days they are better and some days they are worse.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBS, so a good place to start is by managing your symptoms. A symptom diary can help people understand their triggers and this allows them to create a tailored plan. Dietary and lifestyle changes are very important to implement. For example, it’s important to stop smoking and avoid caffeine, as these can aggravate the symptoms. Drinking plenty of water is recommended and increasing the amount of fibre is helpful if you tend towards constipation. Reducing the size of your meals and your consumption of dairy products is also said to be helpful. Probiotics can be useful in improving the overall condition of your gut.
Imodium is a tablet that can help reduce the diarrheal symptoms of IBS and is available over the counter. If you tend more towards constipation, there are some over-the-counter laxatives like Fybogel that you can try. Your pharmacist can also help with other treatment suggestions such as buscopan, which helps reduce the spasms, and peppermint oil which helps with passing too much gas.
IBS is typically a diagnosis of exclusion – there is no specific lab test that can diagnose it. As well as taking a detailed history of your symptoms, your doctor will examine you and may decide to do some blood and stool tests to investigate your symptoms further. This will help in ruling out other disorders of the digestive system. After you have tried managing your symptoms with over-the-counter preparations, your doctor may recommend you try medications like Amitriptyline or Citalopram. These are antidepressants but they can be used in the improvement of other conditions like IBS. If these methods are not helping, it is important to see your doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist or a dietitian for further advice on how to manage your symptoms and any explore any further treatment available.