Learn About Ailments | Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common condition, characterised by lower abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhoea, constipation, or an alternation between these symptoms. The exact cause is not known, but stress & diet can be contributory factors.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

In This Article
Watch the IBS video Causes of IBS
Symptoms of IBS Diagnosis
Related IBS terms


Did you know?
  • In the UK, around 12 million people suffer with IBS
  • 40% of all cases referred to Gastroenterology are for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • A third of all adults in the UK will suffer IBS symptoms at some point in their lives
  • 20% of the population will suffer chronic and prolonged Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • IBS is more common in women than men

Unfortunately the causes of IBS are something of a mystery making the condition difficult to understand and treat. Healthcare professionals believe there are a number of factors that interrelate to cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Some of the possible factors for IBS include:

•    Abnormal muscular function in the digestive tract
•    Hypersensitive digestive organs
•    Immune system malfunction
•    Problems with the way the digestive system is controlled by the central nervous system
•    Poor responses to infection
•    Dietary, hereditary, environmental factors

Psychological factors are also thought to cause IBS symptoms and there is much evidence to suggest this is true. The way we deal with stress, emotions or depression can cause symptoms of IBS to 'flare-up' and the condition is particularly common among people who have experienced severe trauma.

The body is physically affected by the way we think and feel about things due to chemical reactions taking place. This can affect how the digestive system works and result in worsening IBS symptoms.

Between 10 and 20 per cent of IBS cases begin after a bout of acute gastroenteritis (a stomach infection that causes inflammation of the stomach lining, vomiting and diarrhoea).

The symptoms of IBS can begin at any age but commonly begin during the late teens to early adulthood. The most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are:

•    Pain in the abdomen and cramps often relieved by emptying the bowel
•    Constipation or diarrhoea or a combination of both
•    Bloated or swollen abdomen
•    Flatulence (wind)
•    The need to go to toilet urgently
•    Never feeling that you've completely emptied your bowel
•    Mucus passing through the rectum

IBS symptoms typically are worse after eating and when symptoms to appear they can last two to four days at which point they improve or disappear completely.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome can also cause other symptoms including:
•    Back pain (lower)
•    Muscular pain
•    Joint pain
•    Fatigue/tiredness
•    Headaches
•    Nausea
•    Burping
•    Halitosis (bad breath)
•    Need to urinate frequently

Psychological symptoms such as anxiety or depression can result due to the persistent pain and discomfort of IBS.

A GP will make a diagnosis of IBS based on symptoms and ruling out other conditions such as gluten intolerances (this is done through a blood test).

The GP will ask if any of the following symptoms have been persistent over the course of at least six months:

•    Problems with bowel habits (constipation, diarrhoea)
•    Abdominal pain and discomfort
•    Bloating

Your doctor will also check for specific symptoms associated with IBS such as easing of pain in the abdomen when emptying the bowel, going to the toilet more often and changes to your stools.

At least two of the following symptoms will need to present for IBS to be diagnosed:

•    Straining to pass stools, urgent need to use the toilet, feeling that the bowel isn't emptied when using the toilet
•    Abdominal tension, bloating or hardness
•    Symptoms feeling worse of eating
•    Mucus passing out of the rectum

If necessary, your GP will use further testing to make a diagnosis should they feel there is another more serious condition than IBS present. Symptoms your GP will look for include:
•    Weight loss
•    Swelling in the abdomen or rectum
•    Bleeding from the rectum
•    Anaemia (reduced red blood cells)

Other diagnostic tests a GP may request you go for to ensure an accurate diagnosis include:

•    Gastroscopy/Endoscopy -  A small flexible tube with a camera placed down the oesophagus into the stomach and small intestine
•    Ultrasound
•    Barium meal – A liquid swallowed and then highlighted by an X-Ray of the stomach and intestine
•    Colonoscopy – An flexible tube with a camera placed into the anus to examine the large intestine

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Therapies to consider
Acupressure Acupuncture Allergy Intolerance Testing
Aromatherapy Ayurvedic Medicine Bowen Therapy
Chinese Herbal Medicine Colonic Hydrotherapy Colour Therapy
Cranial Osteopathy Craniosacral Therapy Detoxification
EFT Energy Healing Hawaiian Massage
Herbal Medicine Hypnotherapy Kinesiology
Massage Naturopathy NLP
Nutrition Physiotherapy Reflexology
Reiki Shiatsu Vertical Reflex Therapy


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