As April is IBS Awareness Month, our consultant Dr Mead explains signs, symptons and management of this common condition.
What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is a very common condition. It describes a wide range of symptoms that vary from one person to another and can be worse for some people than others. It is a chronic and recurrent disorder of the gastro-intestinal tracts function.
The most common symptoms are:
- wind and/or bloating
- diarrhoea or constipation, or both
- low abdominal pain, which may ease after opening the bowels or be accompanied by a change in bowel habit or stool appearance
- passing mucus
- feeling the need to open the bowels even after having just been to the toilet
- a feeling of urgency
- feeling that your symptoms are worse after eating.
If you have any of the following symptoms consult your doctor immediately:
- unintentional and unexplained weight loss;
- rectal bleeding with a family history of bowel or ovarian cancer;
- if you are over 60 years old, particularly if you have a change in bowel habit to looser and/or more frequent stools for more than six weeks.
Who can be affected by IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome can affect any age group although it usually starts earlier in life, often has been present for many years before help is sought and affects more women than men.
Could my symptoms be due to food allergy or intolerance?
Because IBS symptoms are often worse after eating, it is not surprising that food is blamed. True food allergies are rare and are unlikely to cause IBS. However, IBS symptoms could be caused by food intolerance. There is no convincing evidence to support any of the commercially available food intolerance tests. If you feel your symptoms are due to food intolerance, ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietician.
Are there effective treatments for this condition?
There are a range of effective treatment options, diets and techniques, although no one technique works for everybody.
Before attempting to manage symptoms via your diet, or medications it is important to rule our other medical conditions, and to have a diagnosis established by your doctor.