What is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common gut disorder which affects the digestive system, particularly the large intestine. It is thought to affect between 12-30% of the population and is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders. IBS is often diagnosed when the discomfort, inconvenience and pain cannot be explained by any underlying disease or condition.
There is currently no cause or cure for IBS, and management of this condition focuses on symptom relief.
What are the signs and symptoms of IBS?
Approximately 1 in 6 people experience symptoms of IBS and these can develop at any age, however, it is usually between the ages of 15 and 40 and is more common in women than men (3:2).
IBS symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain. Usually occurring in the lower abdomen but can affect the entire abdomen. At its most severe, this can be a sharp, stabbing pain in the abdomen and can be extremely debilitating, especially when linked to other IBS symptoms.
- Frequent bloating. Abdominal distension is a common complaint of IBS sufferers. Often describing a flat stomach in the morning which becomes more distended during the day, this may be linked to excessive abdominal gas.
- Diarrhoea or constipation. Fluctuating bowel habits can be distressing and can occur during an IBS flare-up, often alongside abdominal pain or cramping. It’s possible to have episodes of both but some people experience one more than the other.
- A change in bowel movements.
- Excess flatulence. Some foods are naturally gas producing and for an IBS sufferer, they can exacerbate problems, causing additional pain and distress.
- Feeling sick (nausea). Nausea can often manifest alongside to other IBS symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal pain, making the sufferer feel sick after eating and contributing to the anxiety that can be associated with mealtimes.
- Stomach gurgles, particularly at night or after meals
What is an irritable bowel syndrome attack?
The intensity and frequency of IBS pain and discomfort can differ between individuals, and for the individual themselves. This can result in varying degrees of IBS pain. An IBS flare-up can last for days, weeks or months at a time, or may come and go sporadically.
If you suspect you have IBS, it is recommended that you always consult with your GP so they can rule out any underlying causes. Once diagnosed, it is normal to ask questions, such as ‘can you outgrow IBS?’ or ‘can IBS be cured?’. Irritable bowel can be frustrating to live with and, depending on the IBS attacks, can impact on day-to-day life.
How to manage IBS?
IBS is often lifelong but there are many treatments available, more so than ever before. Treatment of irritable bowel is largely based on the use of antispasmodics, antidepressants, and medications that modify bowel spasms and habits, depending on whether constipation or diarrhoea is the predominant problem. However, there are also natural remedies for IBS to relieve symptoms.
If your condition persists, it might be a good opportunity to take a closer look at your diet. Many people living with diagnosed IBS often feel as though they have some form of dietary intolerance and frequently try exclusion diets to manage the symptoms of an IBS attack.
How do you test for irritable bowel syndrome?
There’s currently no test for IBS. It’s important to always consult your GP if you experience any IBS symptoms, so they can rule out any underlying medical conditions. They may also carry out a blood test to check for coeliac disease or take a stool sample to check for infections or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
IBS can be distressing and can interfere with day-to-day life. If you’re taking a closer look at your diet, YorkTest offers food allergy (IgE) and IgG food intolerance* testing from a simple finger-prick of blood.