IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

Written by Melanie Dixon

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is a common disorder affecting around 1 in 5 people in the UK. It’s known as a functional gastrointestinal disorder – basically, this means there’s a problem with the way the gut functions, rather than any structural or auto-immune issue.

IBS is diagnosed by assessing symptoms and excluding other health issues which have a similar presentation, such as Coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disease. Your GP may recommend blood tests or further investigations (endoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy) to rule these out.

There are 3 different types of IBS:

  • IBS-D: diarrhoea-dominant (watery and loose stools)
  • IBS-C: constipation-dominant (hard and difficult to pass stools)
  • IBS-M (mixed type): alternating diarrhoea and constipation, often on the same day

With IBS, your digestive tract becomes sensitive and bowel muscle contractions are affected. This is what causes the uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms.

Common Symptoms

  • Bloating
  • Excess gas
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Diarrhoea, constipation or both
  • Mucus in the stool

Common Causes

The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but these are some of the common triggers:

  • Gastritis, food-poisoning or other gut infection
  • Food intolerance, such as lactose or gluten
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Digestive disorders or abnormal gut motility
  • Hormonal changes

Top Tips To Feel Better

Peppermint tea – peppermint tea is anti-spasmodic, meaning it can relieve painful cramping.
Gentle exercise – movement such as walking, yoga, Pilates or stretching can stop your digestive system becoming too sluggish and help alleviate symptoms.
Relax – stress is well-known for exacerbating IBS, so finding ways to keep calm is really important. Meditation, yoga, walking outdoors in nature, hot Epsom salt baths – whatever you find relaxing – these are all great ways to bring calm into your life.
Avoid trigger foods and drinks – caffeine, alcohol, gluten and dairy (specifically lactose) can worsen IBS symptoms, so try removing them from the diet to see if you experience any relief.

Follow a Low FODMAP diet – you may find that eliminating foods high in FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono- and polysaccharides – simple sugars) may help. Although usually considered healthy, these foods can be more tricky to digest and so often trigger IBS symptoms. Garlic, leeks, onions and cruciferous vegetables are examples of foods which are high in FODMAPs. A dietician or nutritional therapist can advise you on how to follow a low FODMAP diet and make sure you’re not missing out on important nutrients.

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