Irritable bowel syndrome
What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is a common condition affecting men and woman of all ages, perhaps in up to 20% of the population.
People with IBS may have cramping abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation. Symptoms can alternate in the same patient, with periods of both loose bowel motions and constipation.
Many will get painful bloating, and in some women this will get worse before their period. For that reason it is often assumed that IBS is associated with endometriosis, but they are two very different diseases.
Causes and treatment
The exact cause of IBS is unclear – it probably represents the end of a few different pathways. Common triggers include:
- Diet – gluten is often blamed, but that is only one of a large group of substances called 'FODMAPs'. A dietician can help identify if you are sensitive to these
- Bacterial changes in the gut – for example, after antibiotics. Probiotics and occasionally specialized antibiotics may be recommended
- Stress – this is a common cause of flareups, but is often overlooked or put in the 'too hard' basket.
- Changes in the way nerves around the gut behave – so called 'visceral hypersensitivity'. In some cases medications that alter the way nerves transmit pain may help.