Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common condition that affects the bowels. It is usually caused by a combination of physiological (e.g. altered bowel sensation and movement) and psychosocial (e.g. stress, lifestyle) factors.
Common symptoms are:
Constipation and/or diarrhoea (loose or more frequent bowel movements). In addition, there may also be a feeling of incomplete emptying despite having been to the toilet.
Bloating, which is relieved by passing wind.
Tummy cramps and pain which are often relieved by bowel movement.
Other symptoms may include tiredness, backache, urinary frequency, poor sleep, anxiety and feelings of depression.
- Lifestyle – In general, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with adequate exercise, rest and relaxation helps to promote a sense of well-being.
- Stress management – As psychological and social factors play a role in the development of IBS, identifying stress factors and learning how to cope are important. Some patients may find it beneficial to see a psychiatrist or psychologist who may be able to help them deal with stress.
- Dietary manipulation – While dietary factors alone do not cause IBS, some food may aggravate symptoms in some patients. For example, meals high in fat, fried food, coffee and alcohol may cause diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. A healthy diet with adequate intake of fruits, vegetables and water helps regulate bowel movement.
- Medicines – Muscle relaxants are commonly used to treat tummy cramps and bloating. Laxatives may be required to relieve constipation and anti-diarrhoeal drugs to control diarrhoea. Some patients may also benefit from anti-depressants. Drugs for treating constipation-predominant IBS are also available.
Be aware that blood in the stools is not a symptom of IBS, so you should see your doctor as soon as possible if this happens.
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