Irritable bowel syndrome

5-minute read on Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that affects the functioning of the bowel

The main symptoms are abdominal pain or discomfort that is often relieved by passing wind or faeces, stomach bloating, and chronic diarrhoea or constipation (or alternating between the two). These symptoms can be embarrassing, inconvenient and distressing. Fortunately, IBS does not cause permanent damage to the bowel and it does not cause other serious diseases like bowel cancer. If you have IBS, then an episode can be triggered by an infection, stress, food intolerance or particular medicines. The exact cause of IBS is unknown. It’s probably due to many factors, including the nerves in the bowel being more sensitive than usual (allowing the person to feel sensations they wouldn’t normally feel), abnormal contractions in the bowel, chronic inflammation of the bowel and psychological factors.

Who develops IBS?
IBS develops in as many as one in five Australians at some point in their lifetime, and is twice as common in women as it is in men. It often develops in the late teens or early twenties. Having a close relative with IBS may slightly increase your chance of having it.

How do I know if I have IBS?
The main feature of IBS is abdominal pain associated with a change in bowel habits. Symptoms to look for include:
Ÿ  recurring episodes of diarrhoea or constipation
Ÿ  symptoms that alternate between diarrhoea and constipation
Ÿ  bloating
Ÿ  pain or discomfort that is relieved by passing wind or going to the toilet
Ÿ  symptoms are more common in women and may be worse around menstruation or at times of stress
IBS does not cause bleeding from the back passage. IBS is usually diagnosed based on your symptoms and your medical history. There is no medical test that can be used to confirm a diagnosis, although tests (such as a blood test or a colonoscopy) may be required to rule out other conditions. Check your symptoms with healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention. This is particularly necessary if you are over 40 when you develop symptoms, if you have a family history of bowel cancer, or if there are other signs or symptoms which suggest another condition could be causing your symptoms.
How is IBS treated?
It is important to have a doctor who will carefully explain your condition, answer your questions, and work with you to develop a management plan suitable for your individual needs. 
Article published on, Oct 2016
Sources: Colorectal Surgical Society of Australia and New Zealand (Irritable bowel syndrome), Gastroenterological Society of Australia (Irritable bowel syndrome), (Advice for Teens), (Physiotherapy and IBS), (Psychological Therapies), (Food Intolerances associated with IBS), Monash University (Low FODMAP diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome), NHS Choices UK (Irritable bowel syndrome - Treatment), NPS MedicineWise (Irritable bowel syndrome), Gut Foundation (Bowel conditions). Last reviewed: October 2016