What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and how can you treat it?

It leaves one in five people in the UK on the lookout for the nearest toilet, but what exactly is IBS? We took a closer look at this increasingly common condition and how it affects the digestive system.

What is IBS and who does it affect?

IBS causes spells of stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. These spells come and go and can last anywhere from a few days to a few months each time. IBS is a lifelong condition that usually first affects people between the ages of 20 and 30. Women are two times more likely to be affected than men, with some people experiencing more severe symptoms than others.

What are the causes and triggers of IBS?

The exact cause of IBS remains unknown but it is thought that stress, a gut that’s sensitive to pain, and digestive problems may be linked to the condition. During times of stress, many people with IBS experience flare-ups. Certain foods may also trigger IBS. These are different for each person but fizzy drinks, fatty food, alcohol, chocolate and caffeine are the most common.

Signs that you may suffer from IBS

Changes in bowel habits.

Switching between constipation and diarrhoea, your bowels may also feel like they haven’t been completely emptied after going to the toilet.

Stomach pain or discomfort

Ranging from a dull ache to sharp pains or cramps, it’s usually worse after eating and feels better after going to the toilet.

Stomach bloating.

You often feel bloated and your stomach looks swollen, especially in the evening.

Excessive flatulence.

Caused by retention of gas resulting in bloating and passing more wind than usual.

A sudden, urgent need to go to the toilet.

People with IBS may sometimes quickly need to find a toilet to relieve themselves.

Passing mucus.

On occasion, mucus may be mixed with your stools. At other times, you might pass mucus alone when going to the toilet.

Problems with your bladder.

Those with IBS may need to urinate more often than usual. Sometimes they may wake up at night to urinate and may often find it difficult to fully empty their bladder.

Feeling low on energy.

IBS often causes a lack of energy with those affected feeling tired and run down.

How is IBS treated?

IBS can’t be cured, but making diet and lifestyle changes may help relieve symptoms. Identifying your triggers and learning to avoid them is key to preventing flare-ups. Lowering stress levels, regular exercise, eating regular meals and including probiotics in your diet may also help ease symptoms. There are also several over-the-counter medicines available as well as prescribed medicines available to help treat the condition.

Most IBS symptoms are long-lasting with occasional flare-ups that are more severe. If you notice the above symptoms, contact your GP to talk through them and discuss treatment.

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