Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common problems of the digestive system. IBS is what’s referred to as a functional disorder and is a long-term condition that causes recurring pain or discomfort in the abdomen and altered bowel habits.
Around one in five Australians will experience the unpleasant symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) at some time. It can develop at any age, but for most people, the first symptoms tend to show up in early adulthood. Women are more likely than men to get IBS and to have more severe symptoms.
Irritable bowel syndrome can present in three basic forms. It can be predominantly:
You’re more likely to have IBS if you:
Although symptoms vary from one person to the next, some of the more common indicators of IBS include:
To some people, IBS symptoms don’t tend to warrant a visit to their doctor, However, if you find these symptoms seriously affect your lifestyle, or you find it quite difficult to cope with these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
Important! These symptoms are not specific to IBS. They may be attributed to conditions other than IBS, including Coeliac Disease which can damage the lining of the intestine. If you have any of the above symptoms, let your doctor determine if Coeliac Disease is present or if the symptoms point to other conditions.
If you have any of the symptoms of IBS, a persistent and noticeable change in your bowel habits, or if you have any of the more serious signs listed below, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor can help you find ways to relieve your IBS symptoms as well as rule out any conditions of the colon, such as inflammatory Bowel Disease and Colon Cancer. Your doctor can also help you avoid possible complications from problems such as chronic diarrhoea.
The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that rhythmically contract and relax as food moves from your stomach through your intestinal tract to your rectum. If you have irritable bowel syndrome, the contractions may be stronger and last longer than normal, causing gas, bloating and diarrhoea.
But sometimes the opposite is also true. Weak intestinal contractions slows the passage of food and leading to hard, dry stools.
Abnormalities in your gastrointestinal nervous system also may play a role causing you to experience greater than normal discomfort when your abdomen stretches from gas or stool.
And it could also be poor coordination between the brain and the intestines that makes your body overreact to the changes that normally occur inside the digestive process — which in turn causes pain, diarrhoea or constipation.
Irritable bowel syndrome is just another one of those conditions where there doesn’t seem to be a definitive cause. That said, there are some things that trigger attacks including:
Conditions such as: Coeliac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Endometriosis all have similar symptoms to IBS. So it’s important not to self-diagnose and see your doctor as soon as you can.
Your doctor may:
Your doctor may also refer you for a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy. This involves using an endoscope (a flexible, tube-like instrument to look inside your bowel). A bowel biopsy may also be taken for examination in a laboratory to help rule out more serious conditions.
However, if you’re under 50 and have typical symptoms of IBS, you may not need any further tests. Where your doctor maybe concerned, is if you have any of the following other symptoms which could point to other more serious conditions.
IBS cannot be cured with medications or special diets. A good doctor is one who will work with you to create a plan based on treating, alleviating or even eliminating the symptoms of IBS. These may include:
Some medications may also help to ease the symptoms of IBS if and when they flare up. These may include:
Additionally, a physiotherapist may be able to teach you how to use your muscles to control your bowel function more effectively.
If you suffer from psychological issues like anxiety, depression and stress, we recommend seeing a psychologist or counsellor who can help you to deal with these issues and for coping with IBS.
Kimberly-Clark Australia makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.
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