If you think you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), there are some simple lifestyle changes that can help ease your discomfort
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects how the large intestine works. It's fairly common, estimated to affect 10-20 percent of the UK population, and is especially common in young people – particularly women.
What is irritable bowel syndrome?
IBS is a functional disorder of the large intestine. This means that the intestine is physically normal but does not function as it should. While you may experience some discomfort from this condition, you should bear in mind that it isn't dangerous.
IBS can manifest in a number of ways. The intestines may become more sluggish, causing bloating and constipation, or you may experience diarrhoea. Sometimes, your body may switch between these two kinds of symptoms.
No cause has been found for IBS, but stress can aggravate your symptoms. Some stomach infections are also thought to increase the risk for IBS.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
Your doctor will consider a diagnosis of IBS based on your symptoms. Common symptoms are experiencing abdominal pains, bloating, or a change in your bowel habits. Other symptoms can include:
• Constipation or diarrhoea
• Feeling sick
• Passage of mucus with stools
• Frequent belching
• Poor appetite
• Feeling quickly full after eating
• Bladder symptoms (an associated irritable bladder)
Do I need to have tests to be diagnosed with IBS?
There is no test to confirm IBS. Your GP may carry out blood tests in order to exclude other conditions such as coeliac disease.
How to cure IBS
There is no recognised cure for IBS. However, there are some lifestyle changes you can try once you've been diagnosed with the condition, which can make your symptoms more manageable, such as:
• Eating regular small meals. Reducing foods high in starch like wholemeal bread can help with symptoms. Limit pieces of fruit to no more than three per day
• Drinking plenty of water – at least eight glasses a day. Avoid drinks high in sugar or artificial sweeteners, and limit cups of coffee and tea to no more than three per day
• Getting regular exercise
• Managing your stress levels. Reading a book, meeting a friend, or going for a walk may help to reduce stress
Some medicines may help with symptoms. Speak with your pharmacist or GP to discuss which might be most suitable for you. Their advice may include:
• Antispasmodics to help control abdominal pain
• Laxatives, which at correct doses may help constipation
• Loperamide, which may be used to help control diarrhoea. Always speak with your pharmacist or GP before using this medicine to check it's suitable for you, as it can be dangerous if taken for causes of diarrhoea not associated with IBS
• Speak with your doctor or pharmacist to see which medicines are more suitable for you
When should I see my GP?
Make an appointment with your GP if you experience any of these symptoms:
• Unexplained long-term diarrhoea or abdominal pain
• Persistent vomiting
• Blood in your stools or black stools
• Unexplained weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• If you think you might have IBS, visit your GP for a diagnosis. It’s important to ensure your symptoms aren’t part of a more serious health issue
• To help manage your condition, eat regular small meals, drink plenty of water, and enjoy some gentle exercise. Speak to your pharmacist or GP if you think that you need medicines to control your symptoms
• You should also try to understand what causes your symptoms and avoid these triggers – this may be everyday stress or certain foods