What you need to know about IBS

What are the triggers of IBS

According to research, two out of ten people in the UK have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) with most suffering six or more episodes a year. IBS accounts for 10% of all GP visits and 50% of visits to gastroenterologists.

We look at what you need to know about IBS – from triggers to treatment.

What is IBS?

GPs use the Rome III criteria to diagnose IBS as “…recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort (including bloating) and a marked change in bowel habit for at least six months, with symptoms experienced on at least three days of at least three months.”

Two or more of the following must apply:

  • Pain is relieved by a bowel movement
  • Onset of pain is related to a change in frequency of stool
  • Onset of pain is related to a change in the appearance of stool

You may find your symptoms get worse:

  • During times of stress and major life events
  • After eating certain foods - this can vary by individual
  • When you're taking certain antibiotics

IBS can cause other symptoms too. These include:

  • Feeling very tired
  • Indigestion
  • Feeling sick
  • Backache and other muscle or joint pains
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Regular headaches
  • Problems with your bladder, such as needing to pass urine more often and urgently, particularly at night
  • Painful sex
  • Difficulty controlling your bowels, such as leaking faeces when you break wind

There are many causes of IBS. Your gut lining can break down from stress, too many antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, intestinal infections, a low-fibre and/or high-sugar diet and alcohol. These and other factors trigger and activate an immune response, sparking food allergies and aggravating the enteric nervous system (your ‘second brain’) that leads to IBS. 

Treatment strategies through your GP

IBS is usually diagnosed using blood tests after ruling out other conditions. There can be many reasons why you experience symptoms, so it’s often difficult to make a clear diagnosis. You may be offered pain relief for the symptoms of IBS and be advised to seek dietary advice from a qualified professional.

Diet, lifestyle and behavioural interventions – taking a whole-body approach

Many studies have found that – as well as medical treatments - changing your diet, lifestyle or behaviour can be very effective at managing IBS symptoms. 

Working out which parts of your diet trigger your IBS is important, as this differs depending on the individual. Typical IBS trigger foods include (but are not limited to):

  • Dairy products
  • Gluten
  • FODMAP foods
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Other allergens specific to the individual

An IBS diet plan consists of a nourishing and anti-inflammatory diet that’s low in allergens, processed foods, sugars and alcohol and rich in a variety of unprocessed, whole foods that provide fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Learning how to manage stress is also a key part of your recovery from IBS and this comes hand-in-hand with good lifestyle habits such as proper sleep (ideally eight hours per night) and regular moderate exercise.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of IBS, our team of specialist staff - including a dietician and nutritionist – can help. Our diagnostic department offers tests, scans and examinations, helping you to feel better, fast. Call our Private Patient Team on 01580 363158 to see what we can do for you.


Published on 14 July 2020