Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects your large intestine (colon), causing abdominal discomfort. Despite these uncomfortable signs and symptoms, IBS doesn’t cause permanent damage to your colon.
Causes and Triggers of IBS
Triggers for IBS can range from gas or pressure on your intestines to certain foods, medications or emotions. Many people find their symptoms worsen when they eat certain foods. For instance, chocolate, milk and alcohol might cause constipation or diarrhoea. Likewise, fizzy drinks and certain fruit and vegetables can also lead to bloating and discomfort in some people who have IBS.
Most people with IBS find that their symptoms are worse or more frequent during stressful events, such as a change in their daily routine. However, while stress may aggravate symptoms, it doesn’t cause them.
Symptoms of IBS
The signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can vary widely from person to person, and often resemble those of other diseases. The most common symptoms include:
- Feeling bloated
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Gas (flatulence)
- Mucus in the stool
- Diarrhoea or constipation — sometimes even alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhoea
Many people only have mild symptoms, but because these can occur alongside other more serious diseases, it’s best to discuss any symptoms with your doctor.
Diagnosis of IBS
Diagnosis of IBS requires a complete medical history and physical examination, often to rule out other possible causes. Abdominal pain, together with discomfort lasting more than 12 months, are the most important symptoms. After this, changes in the frequency or consistency of your stool, straining, urgency or a feeling that you can’t empty your bowels completely, mucus in your stool, bloating or abdominal distension are all considered.
Your doctor will assess how you fit these criteria, as well as whether you have any other signs or symptoms that might suggest another, more-serious condition. Red flag signs and symptoms include:
- New onset after the age of 50
- Rectal bleeding
- Weight loss
- Nausea or recurrent vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhoea that is persistent or awakens you from sleep
Treatment of IBS
Because it’s not clear what causes irritable bowel syndrome, treatment focuses on the relief of symptoms. In most cases, you can successfully control mild symptoms of IBS by avoiding trigger foods, learning to manage stress, and making changes to your lifestyle.
Your doctor may also suggest taking certain supplements or prescription medications, depending on your symptoms and how severe they are. If you have more questions, why not ask one of our doctors? They’re available 24/7, 365 days a year!