Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS is becoming one of the most common bowel disorders in the 21st century, about 1 in every 100 people are affected, and two thirds of which are women. It can be at times a debilitating syndrome, which can cause all sorts of symptoms involving the lower abdomen. The syndrome itself is not life threatening, and does not cause any permanent damage to the intestines or colon, however it can disrupt an individual lifestyle greatly due to the discomfort and distress it can potentially cause. The cause of IBS is idiopathic meaning cause unknown.

* The description of IBS can be described as simply as the gut inability to function effectively.

The groups of symptoms include:

Excessive flatulence (wind)
Alternating between mild to severe diarrhoea and constipation
Abdominal Cramps that can be moderate to severe
Occasionally passing mucous with bowel movements

You may not have all of these symptoms, but having at least 3 indicate you may be suffering from IBS.

What to do if you think you may be suffering from IBS

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is important for you to visit your local doctor, do not to self diagnose, as there are many other bowel diseases that exist. Some can be treated simply once diagnosed, although some may be serious and need immediate treatment. One of the tests often ordered by your Doctor is a colonoscopy; in where an endoscope is inserted into the anus, enabling the Doctor to view the colon and take a microscopic sample of the colon wall. This is to test for any "nasty micro-organisms" and to view the colon for any abnormalities (this is done under a mild general anaesthetic and is a painless procedure). This procedure can narrow down your type of IBS and help to reinsure you that your symptoms are directly related to IBS.

Contributing factors to the severity

Stress and anxiety
A lifestyle that is fast moving with little time to relax
Sometimes your body may simply not be able to digest specific foods affectively
A lack of fibre in your diet


Firstly you must ensure that it is IBS by consulting with your GP. The treatments for IBS are varied and not all work, as unfortunately there is no magic cure, you will need to find what works for you. Basically if you suffer from this syndrome the treatment is based upon lifestyle changes and maintenance of these changes, as it will take time for these alterations to make a difference.

Some helpful ways to reduce your symptoms are:

Reduce foods that may cause intestinal gas; such as tea, coffee, fatty foods, alcohol, legumes, those foods in the cabbage family and some dairy products; especially milk.

Regularly drinking peppermint tea can aid productive digestive system function.

Plan a healthier diet with your GP or a Dietitian, they will most likely encourage you to cut out rich & creamy foods, along with sugars and spicy foods.

Increase the fibre in your diet, however this must be done slowly, as if done fast your intestines will react to this new eating behaviour and may cause abdominal cramping.

Use natural therapies; such as Chinese herbal medicines, they may recommend avoiding cold foods such as salads, and eating warm foods such as soups and stews.

Seek out counselling to help identify and therefore reduce and manage the stresses in your life, these might be a major factor contributing to your IBS.

Keep a food diary; this can help to discover the food that worsens your IBS.

While there are over the counter medications to help relieve the spasms, diarrhoea, and constipation that IBS can cause, they should not be used as long-term therapies, as they are only masking the problem. Changing your lifestyle, which will take time, effort, and commitment, has been found to be the most effective way to combat this nasty syndrome.

- Louise Ganey (RN)