Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a condition that affects the large bowel or colon. This is the part of the digestive track where waste matter is changed from liquid to formed state, then stored.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

It is a condition that encompasses many symptoms including:

  • abdominal bloating;
  • cramping abdominal pains;
  • diarrhoea;
  • constipation; and
  • occasionally mucous discharge.

It never causes bleeding from the bowel.

Causes of IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome is thought to be a diffuse disorder affecting the smooth muscle of the bowel, and causing either over or underactivity in the muscle.  This then leads to symptoms of diarrhoea or constipation.

The actual cause of the condition is not known but many factors seem to trigger symptoms such as stress, exercise, and hormones.  Foods, especially milk products, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and fatty foods have also been implicated in triggering symptoms.

Investigations

As with any bowel condition, a thorough history and physical examination needs to be performed.  It is important to remember that a diagnosis of IBS is only a diagnosis once other more serious conditions have been excluded.  To exclude other conditions such as bowel cancer and inflammatory bowel disease patients may require a colonoscopy (which is an examination of the bowel with a camera) and blood tests.

Treatment

Treatment is difficult, as this condition has a varying spectrum from mild to severe.  In most cases, reassurance that there is nothing more serious is often adequate.  Often symptomatic control of one symptom may lead to worsening of other symptoms.  Most doctors will try changes in diet and may supplement an individual’s diet with fibre supplements.  This often requires chopping and changing supplements until an acceptable regime is found.  Foods high in fibre may help, and avoidance of foods mentioned earlier may be of assistance.

Learning to cope and handle stress may also relieve symptoms.

It is important to remember that surgery has no role in the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

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