Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common, non-life threatening condition affecting twice as many women as men. The diagnosis is clinically based and relies on history and examination. Although there is no specific test for IBS it is usually not difficult to diagnose and is rarely associated with any serious pathology of the bowel. It should be remembered that IBS is a syndrome rather than a disease. For reasons not fully understood the bowel is not working quite as it should.

IBS is characterised by cramping abdominal pain associated with defecation (opening of the bowels) or a change in bowel habit together with disordered defecation and the sensation of abdominal distension. The 4 key symptoms of IBS are pain, constipation, diarrhoea and bloating and many patients with also complain of specific food- related abdominal distension. It is thought to be associated with a Western-style diet as it is uncommon in areas of the world where a high fibre diet is consumed, but studies of the association between fibre and IBS have been inconclusive. IBS is usually intermittent in nature and rarely develops into anything more serious but there is often a psychological aspect to it and many episodes are precipitated by stress.

IBS Treatment

This usually involves a fibre rich diet (although this does not always improve symptoms) and anti-spasmodic drugs to reduce the pain. Complimentary therapies such as hypnosis, cognitive behavioural therapy and psychotherapy are sometimes also used successfully.

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