What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is a term used to describe a variety of chronic symptoms. The frequency and severity of these symptoms are different for each person, and can also vary with time. These symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal discomfort or pain
  • Diarrhoea or constipation or both
  • Bloating
  • Fluctuating symptoms
  • Improvement of symptoms on opening bowels
  • Passing mucous in the stools
  • A feeling of incomplete bowel emptying
  • Urgency to empty bowels
  • Worsening of symptoms during menstrual periods or with certain foods

What is the cause of IBS?

The exact cause of IBS is not known. There are many potential factors including, food, hormones, genetics, bowel (colonic) bacteria, certain gastrointestinal infections, and bowel hypersensitivity.

How common is IBS?

IBS is a very common condition which affects one in five people. IBS may also co-exist with other conditions such as functional dyspepsia, malabsorption syndromes or Coeliac Disease.

Can IBS lead to cancer?

Whilst the symptoms of IBS can be severe and impact upon one’s life there is no evidence that bowel damage occurs or cancer.

Do I need any tests?

Investigations are needed to exclude other conditions which have overlapping symptoms with IBS. These tests may include blood tests, gastroscopy, colonoscopy or breath tests.

What is the treatment for IBS?

Treatment for IBS can include a change in lifestyle, dietary modification and medications. Unfortunately no one medication treats IBS, and it may take time to find the right balance to treat all the symptoms. With the right treatment, most people will have symptom improvement with time.

General lifestyle recommendations include regular exercise, healthy balanced diet, plenty of fluid, minimise stress, adequate sleep and relaxation strategies (e.g. meditation, massage etc).