Irritable Bowel Syndrome: What is it?

At least 58 million Americans have suffered IBS at some stage in their lives. They have cramp like abdominal pains, diarrhoea and/ constipation. These symptoms vary in individual IBS patients and also from day to day. President of the IBS Self Help and Support Group, Jeffrey Roberts, says, “IBS is an illness which seems to strike people down.”


IBS is a collection of symptoms that are present for 12 weeks in twelve month period. It is characterised by abdominal pain and must include at least two of the following three facts. The pain is relieved with bowel movement, and associated with a change in the frequency of bowel movement and appearance of the stools.


Certain foods and stress can trigger symptoms or cause a flare up of IBS. No one is certain what exactly IBS is or what causes it. What we knowat present is the Large Gut in IBS sufferers are more sensitive and, hormonal changes may be a trigger because 80% of IBS patients are women. It can develop after a severe episode of gastroenteritis and there is a higher incident in individuals who were physically and sexually abused as children.


Although Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a distressing condition with abdominal pains, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating and rectal pain, there is no abnormality of the gut. In fact it is not IBS if anything was found during investigation.


If you have symptoms of IBS, see your doctor for a diagnosis. Your doctor is likely to do tests to exclude serious diseases before a diagnosis of IBS is made. With the Rome Criteria, a diagnosis can be made with minimal diagnostic test. However, if you have bleeding from the rectum, loss of appetite, weight loss, anaemia or symptoms developing after fifty years of age, you should see your doctor very soon because you will need addition investigation.


Some IBS sufferers are made to feel that their illness is “All in the head.” This is far from the truth but the brain and symptom development are linked and experts think that Brain-Gut connection is very important. Serotonin is linked to IBS. High blood levels are present in Diarrhoea predominant IBS and low levels are found in Constipation predominant IBS.


In Irritable Bowel Syndrome, there is no abnormality in the large gut, it is not a cancer and will not lead to cancer or other gastrointestinal disease and it is very common. It is estimated that at some time in their lives as much as 20% of the global population has or had IBS.


To come to terms with IBS is difficult for patients especially when they are told no one knows the true cause, no one treatment works for everyone and that there is no cure. Depending on the type of IBS you have, dietary changes, stress management, behavioural therapy and an increasing range of alternative treatments options are available.


Some IBS patients have severe abdominal pains soon after eating certain foods. This may be because it is a large meal and in a sensitive gut triggers strong Gastro-colic reflex. This a powerful peristaltic contraction in response to stretching of the stomach. This can be very painful for a patient with IBS. You can reduce this by having smaller meals and eat frequently. You need nutrients from food to remain healthy, so it is important that you do not avoid foods.

Stress is a trigger for IBS symptoms. Relieve stress and your IBS will improve.