Irritable bowel syndrome can be uncomfortable but is usually harmless. It can be very frustrating to live with and can affect your everyday life. It is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder in which the intestines do not work normally. It is also known as functional bowel disease. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation. These tend to come and go over time, and can last for days, weeks or months at a time.
Causes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
The exact cause of IBS is not known, but most experts think that it’s related to increased sensitivity of the gut and problems digesting food. These problems may mean that you’re more sensitive to pain coming from your gut. You may also become constipated or have diarrhoea because your food passes through your gut either too slowly or too quickly. Psychological factors such as stress may also play a part in IBS.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
The most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are abdominal pain or discomfort. There is also abdominal cramping coupled with changes in bowel habits. Other symptoms include:
- Feeling of fullness even when you did not eat
- Gas and bloating
- Alternating diarrhea or constipation or both
- Feeling that a bowel movement is not completely finished.
- Passing mucus – a clear liquid made by the intestines that coats and protects tissues in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Tiredness and a lack of energy
- Feeling sick (nausea)
- Problems peeing – like needing to pee often, sudden urges to pee, and feeling like you can’t fully empty your bladder
There may be days when your symptoms are better and days when they’re worse (flare-ups). They may be triggered by food or drink.
What triggers symptoms of IBS?
You may have noticed that some foods, medications or stress trigger your symptoms. Common triggers include stress, caffeine, alcohol, fat, dairy products, preserved food, smoking and medications. Additional triggers include hormonal changes such as a woman’s menstrual cycle.
You may have some or all of these triggers, and there may be others too. Knowing what your triggers are can help you to manage your symptoms. To help identify your triggers, try keeping a record of your symptoms and looking for any patterns that emerge.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Lifestyle changes can help control symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Try to eat more fibre and drink more fluids
- Learn about IBS diet and food plans – some people do well with increased fibre, others don’t
- Learn to avoid symptom triggers and reduce stress
- Develop techniques to help handle stress such as counselling, yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, relaxation tapes and classes and acupuncture.
- Increase your level of physical activity – being more active helps digestion.