April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) awareness month. IBS affects 1 in 20 of people in the UK. If you are not directly affected by it, then it’s possible that you will have family members or friends that are.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is probably the commonest disorder diagnosed in a gastroenterology clinic. It's defined as more than six months of variable abdominal discomfort, often with bloating and a change in your bowel habits.
The most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are:
- Stomach pains or cramps – usually worse after eating or better after you’ve been to the toilet
- Bloating – your tummy may feel uncomfortably full and swollen
- Diarrhoea – you may have watery poo or sometimes need to poo suddenly
- Constipation - you may strain when pooing and feel like you cannot empty your bowels fully
There may be days when your symptoms are better and days when they’re worse (these are known as flare-ups). They can be triggered by food or drink.
What causes IBS?
There is no answer as to what causes IBS. Some people develop IBS after an episode of food poisoning or infective diarrhoea (e.g. Campylobacter) suggesting that a change in the gut bacteria (microbiome) may be important. In others, certain food items, such as wheat, dairy, or sugars, may worsen symptoms.
In others stress, anxiety, or worry may worsen IBS suggesting that the nerve endings in the gut are involved - the so-called Brain-Gut Axis.
What can trigger IBS symptoms?
IBS flare ups can happen for no obvious reasons, but sometimes they can have a trigger:
- Certain foods such as spicy or fatty food
- Stress and anxiety
How is IBS diagnosed?
IBS is usually diagnosed according to strict national and international guidelines. It's essential that a thorough medical and social history is taken to check that the patient's symptoms fit with the diagnosis. Symptoms suggestive of an inflammatory process or a strong family history of bowel cancer need to be considered carefully.
Following a physical examination, a blood test is required to check for anaemia (thin blood), inflammation or coeliac disease. In individuals with diarrhoea, a stool specimen to measure calprotectin is required. This result must be negative to support a diagnosis of IBS; if raised further investigations, such as a colonoscopy will be needed.
Gastroenterology procedure at Benenden Hospital
Our highly experienced Gastroenterology Consultants can assess and diagnose any gastroenterology issues you may have and carry out procedures at our nationally accredited (JAG accreditation) Endoscopy Unit.
Find out more about our private gastroenterology procedures by completing our online enquiry form or by calling our Private Patient team on 01580 363 158.
Published on 06 April 2022