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What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition of the digestive system. People with IBS have increased gut sensitivity and often food moves too fast or too slow through the digestive system.

Up to one in five people are thought to be affected by IBS in their lifetime, with around twice as many women experiencing IBS symptoms as men. The condition usually develops at some point between the ages of 20 and 30, although at this point it’s not known for sure what causes IBS.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

The symptoms of IBS vary greatly from person to person. Common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Flatulence
  • Bloating

You may experience a sudden need to go to the toilet or a change in bowel habits. Passing mucus when you go to the toilet and feeling like you haven’t completely emptied your bowels are further IBS symptoms.

What causes IBS?

Whilst it’s not known exactly what causes IBS, there are a number of factors that might cause symptoms. Certain foods are known IBS triggers, but this doesn’t mean they will affect everyone with IBS. Common IBS trigger foods include:

  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Alcohol
  • Processed and refined foods
  • Dairy products
  • Wheat

An IBS flare up might also occur when you experience stress and anxiety.  

How can you treat IBS?

There’s no one IBS treatment that will suit every individual, and the best course of action is to try and understand what triggers your symptoms to prevent a flare up before it happens. Medications are available to ease the symptoms of IBS when they arise and these include:

  • Laxatives to ease constipation
  • Antimotility medication to help diarrhoea
  • Antispasmodics to ease cramps and pain in the abdomen

Low doses of antidepressants have also proven effective in relieving abdominal pain and cramping.

What can you do to help prevent IBS?

Understanding what triggers your symptoms in the first place makes living with IBS much simpler. There’s no “one size fits all” IBS diet, so keeping a food diary can help you work out what foods to avoid. Eating regular meals, staying hydrated, exercising and avoiding stressful situations can all make managing IBS much easier too.

* Please note results, timeframe and individual responses to treatments may vary from person to person. If you do need medical advice you should always speak to a doctor, pharmacist or appropriate medical professional.