Alternating recurrent periods or random sporadic clusters of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation’’ sounds familiar? Yes, sounds like the commonly occurring Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It can be very frustrating to live with and can have a big impact on everyday life. To make matters worse, it can be a lifelong problem – but the good news is it can be well controlled and managed, leading mostly to a symptom-free life.
What is IBS?
(IBS) is a common condition that affects the digestive system. It causes symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. These tend to come and go over time and can last for days, weeks or months at a time.
The exact cause is unknown – it’s been linked to things like food passing through your gut too quickly or too slowly, oversensitive nerves in your gut, stress and a family history of IBS.
There is no cure, but diet changes and medicines can often help control the symptoms.
The main symptoms of IBS are:
- stomach pain or cramps – usually worse after eating and better after doing a poo
- bloating – your tummy may feel uncomfortably full and swollen
- diarrhoea – you may have watery poo and sometimes a sudden urgency to poo.
- constipation – you may strain when pooing and feel like you cannot empty your bowels fully.
- excessive farting (flatulence)
- tiredness and a lack of energy
- feeling sick (nausea)
- not always being able to control when you poo (incontinence)
IBS flare-ups can happen for no obvious reason.
Sometimes they have a trigger like:
- certain foods, such as spicy or fatty food, and certain types of fruits and vegetables
- stress and anxiety.
SEE YOUR DOCTOR URGENTLY IF YOU HAVE:
- lost a lot of weight for no reason
- bleeding from your bottom or bloody diarrhoea or mucus in your stool
- a hard lump or swelling in your tummy
- persistent vomiting and diarrhoea.
These could be signs of something more serious.
General tips to relieve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms
There’s no single diet or medicine that works for everyone with IBS. But there are lots of things that can help if you have been diagnosed with it.
Ask your pharmacists for medicines that can help relieve symptoms. Probiotics may help some people.
Check with your doctor who will examine you and may arrange some blood and stool tests to exclude any serious cause, give advice and treatment as necessary.
Diagnosis and Treatment.
General lifestyle changes – usually dietary advice and habit modifications.
Possible referral to a dietician if the above doesn’t help. Dieticians give general diet tips for IBS, advice on certain types of food, like dairy and gluten, allergy testing.
Over the counter medications as suggested by your Pharmacist and/or medicines prescribed by your Doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist if you have severe symptoms and other medicines have not helped.
Psychological Therapies: If you have had IBS for a long time and other treatments are not helping. This can help if stress or anxiety is triggering your symptoms. It can also help you cope with your condition better.
The IBS Network is the national charity for people with IBS.
References: IBS network. Patient UK. NHS website. GP notebook.