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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine.

IBS does not cause changes in bowel tissue and can often be controlled by managing diet, lifestyle, and stress which can all contribute to 'flares' of symptoms.

Symptoms of IBS

The most common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain or discomfort, as well as cramping and changes in bowel habits. Usually, the pain or discomfort will be associated with at least 2 of the below symptoms:

  • feeling better after having a bowel movement

  • having bowel movements more or less often than usual

  • having diarrhoea or constipation

Other symptoms of IBS include:

  • feeling that a bowel movement is not completely finished

  • mucus in the stool

  • not being able to control your bladder

  • not being able to control your bowel

  • feeling bloated

  • excess gas


Causes of IBS

The exact cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS) is unknown however there is emerging evidence that changes in your gut bacteria and inflammation of the immune system may play a role in its development.


Factors that may contribute to IBS include:

  • a sensitive gut

  • unusual digestion speed where the contents of the gut move unusually quickly or slowly

  • an imbalance of 'good' and 'bad' bacteria in the gut

  • a leaky gut when your gut may be slightly inflamed may have small cracks or openings that allow partially digested food, toxins, and bugs to get through the gut barrier

  • an infection that has triggered IBS


Diagnosing IBS

IBS is usually diagnosed based on symptoms.


As symptoms of IBS are similar to more serious conditions, other tests may be necessary such as sigmoidoscopy, fecal testing, or a colonoscopy.


There is also a breath test to see if there are any intolerances to fructose or lactose. Breath testing can also determine if there is small bowel bacterial overgrowth. 


Treatment and Management of IBS

There is no cure for IBS but there are treatments that can make a difference such as:

  • following a low-FODMAP diet. Research suggests that 3 in 4 people with IBS get symptom relief, usually within 1–4 weeks, from following a low-FODMAP diet, and that these positive effects can continue long term. It’s best if you can see a dietitian experienced in this diet to help support you make the changes needed.

  • reducing stress, researchers have found that reducing your stress can help to ease your symptoms

  • increasing physical activity - being more active can help reduce your IBS symptoms. This may be because it helps digested food move through your gut, reducing gas and bloating. Read more about the benefits of physical activity. 

  • taking probiotics to help balance the 'good' and 'bad' bacteria in the gut

  • taking medication, such as laxatives for relief of constipation, anti-diarrheal medications to relieve chronic diarrhoea, anti-spasmodic medications to assist in relieving abdominal pain and cramps or antidepressant medication to help with the pain.

  • having cognitive behavioural therapy because of the connection between the brain and the gut (the gut-brain axis), talking therapy such as CBT, has been found to be helpful in managing IBS symptoms

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