Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the common name given to a set of symptoms that indicate disturbed intestinal function. There are other health problems that share irritable bowel symptoms such as inflammatory bowel disease, pelvic floor dysfunction, endometriosis, coeliac disease or colorectal cancer.
1 in 3 people have IBS, but only about 25% of people with symptoms seek help.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

IBS is a cluster of symptoms that typically include:

  • abdominal pain/discomfort
  • an irregular bowel habit
  • constipation or diarrhoea
  • excessive wind
  • bloating

Symptoms most commonly develop in early to mid adulthood, and women are more likely to be affected than men.

What causes IBS?

The exact cause of IBS is not known. What we do know is that the gut contains muscles that contract and move waste along in wave like movements. In IBS these muscles can go into spasms, or work too slowly or too quickly causing either constipation or diarrhoea. Sometimes both can occur.

Whatever the underlying cause, day to day triggers for IBS symptoms vary from person to person. For example, triggers can be stressful situations or a sudden change in routine. It is important to remember that these are triggers of symptoms but are not the cause of symptoms.

Common triggers can include:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • certain foods – such as dairy, spicy or fatty food
  • smoking and medications
  • stress and anxiety
  • hormonal changes

Keeping a record of your symptoms can help you identify what your triggers are.

How is IBS diagnosed?

IBS will usually be diagnosed by your GP who will ask about your symptoms. They may also give you a physical examination and refer you to a specialist. It can be helpful to write down details of your symptoms before your appointment to help aid the diagnosis.

There is no test for IBS, but some tests may be recommended to eliminate other possible causes of symptoms such as coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

How is IBS treated?

There is no cure for IBS. Treatments can help manage symptoms of IBS and which treatment depends on accurate identification of the cause.

Often symptoms can be managed through lifestyle changes such as:

  • managing diet, such as following a low-FODMAPS diet
  • keeping active
  • managing stress
  • avoiding symptom triggers
  • keeping a diary of what you eat and drink

Seeing a dietitian for IBS

Managing your IBS symptoms through diet can be tricky. Seeing a dietitian who specialises in IBS management can help you understand your diagnosis and work with you to establish healthy eating habits that work for you as an individual. A dietitian can help explore possible causes of symptoms. Triggers are often identified improving your quality of life substantially.

Stephanie Brown, our consultant dietitian at Intus has specialist interest in gastrointestinal health, including irritable bowel syndrome and low FODMAP diets. Stephanie successfully provides patients with effective and practical strategies to manage IBS symptoms.

Find out more about our Dietary services.