Improving Your Health and Wellbeing

Understanding Irritable Bowel Syndrome

by Ernest Smith

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a bowel disorder that affects the motility and functionality of the gut. Anyone can develop the condition, but it's more common in women than men. There's no known definitive cause of IBS, but there are a number of factors thought to play a role in the development of this condition, such as having a family history of IBS, stress and the nerves in your intestines being oversensitive. In those with IBS, food tends to move through the digestive tract too quickly or too slowly, and it's unclear whether this is a symptom or a potential causative factor of the illness. Currently, there is no cure for IBS, but there are a range of treatment options available that can help bring symptoms under control. Here's an overview of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for IBS:


Common symptoms of IBS include bloating, excessive gas and stomach cramps. Sufferers tend to have regular bouts of either diarrhoea or constipation, and gastric symptoms tend to flare up after eating. Other symptoms include nausea, lower back pain, lethargy and weight loss. As a result of these symptoms impacting an IBS patient's life, they may also develop anxiety or depression.

Diagnosis And Treatment Options

Your doctor will diagnose IBS by taking details of your symptoms and carrying out an abdominal examination. You may be asked to keep a food diary to determine if a food intolerance could be causing your symptoms, and blood and stool samples will be collected. Blood tests can show if your body's inflammatory markers are raised, which is indicative of an infection, and a stool sample can be used to rule out other conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease. You may also undergo an endoscopy to check the health of the lining of your intestines, or you may have an ultrasound or CT scan to confirm there are no structural abnormalities along your digestive tract.

There are a number of treatment options available for IBS, and you may need to try a few different options before finding what works for your body. Anti-flatulence or antispasmodic drugs can ease cramps and lessen the pain of trapped wind and bloating by relaxing the intestines. Antidiarrheal medication can reduce episodes of bowel urgency, while laxatives or soluble fibre supplements can be used to speed up bowel motility and bring relief from constipation. 

Probiotics have also been helpful in reducing symptoms in some patients by helping to regulate gut motility, and your doctor can recommend a probiotic that's considered suitable for this condition. Additionally, you may be referred to a dietician for help identifying any foods that trigger your symptoms. They will work with you to create a diet plan that's gentle on your digestive tract.   

If you're experiencing symptoms associated with IBS, don't continue to suffer in silence. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to get a formal diagnosis and start exploring IBS treatment options.