What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common disorder of the gut that can cause bloating, cramps, diarrhoea and constipation.

What causes IBS?

There can be several causes of IBS including a change in diet or stress and anxiety. IBS can also develop after recovery from another gastrointestinal disorder such as food poisoning.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

Common symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain 
  • stomach cramping
  • irregular bowel function - patients may experience diarrhoea or constipation, or a mixture
  • abdominal swelling. 

Other symptoms may include:

  • farting
  • mucus in your faeces
  • tiredness
  • back pain
  • nausea.

How is IBS diagnosed?

You should see your GP in the first instance. They may recommend tests to rule out any other gastrointestinal disorders or coeliac disease (gluten intolerance).

What is the treatment for IBS?

IBS treatment will depend on your particular symptoms, sometimes symptoms of IBS can ease or settle without treatment. Treatment for IBS may include dietary restrictions. You may be asked to keep a food diary to help identify foods that may trigger symptoms.

Medication to ease intestinal spasms (antispasmotic medication) may also be recommended. Many are available without prescription. Over the counter medication to treat your specific symptoms such as diarrhoea or constipation may also be recommended.

If conservative treatment is not successful your GP may refer you to a specialist consultant.

Self-help measures for IBS

There are some lifestyle changes that you can make to help relieve your symptoms of IBS. These include:

  • Get regular exercise
  • Try to manage your stress
  • Keep a symptom tracker - this may help you to identify any foods or triggers that make your symptoms worse so you can try and avoid these triggers