What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? | 3 min read

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), better known as “spastic colon,” is a condition of the large intestine (colon) which manifests with a group of symptoms including abdominal pain, constipation, or diarrhoea. The colon is the last part of the gastrointestinal tract. It absorbs water and any remaining nutrients from partially digested food passed from the small intestine. The colon is also where stools are formed.

IBS is a chronic, functional disorder of the colon, which implies that there is no physical abnormality but rather an abnormality in the functioning thereof. Symptoms may improve or disappear at times and then reappear after some time. Naturally, this, as well as the nature of the symptoms of this condition, may cause distress to patients. IBS is frequently associated with other conditions such as depression or anxiety, fibromyalgia, chronic headache, and backache.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

Abdominal pain, cramping, or discomfort is the most common symptom. Other symptoms include:

  • Bouts of diarrhoea or loose stools; alternating with 
  • Constipation (fewer than three bowel movements per week)
  • Feeling that bowel movements are incomplete
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Passing mucus per rectum

What causes IBS?

The causes of IBS are not well understood. A combination of physical and mental health issues is believed to lead to IBS. Gender, age, genetics, hormonal changes, medication, gastrointestinal infections, emotional factors, diet, and hormones can aggravate the condition, and some doctors believe that food allergies and sensitivities may also be involved. 

How is IBS diagnosed?

IBS is diagnosed mainly on a patient’s symptoms. There is no specific laboratory test or imaging investigation to diagnose IBS definitively. Your doctor will likely start with a complete medical history and a physical examination. Tests to rule out other conditions that may produce IBS-like symptoms like colon cancer, coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or a parasitic infection may also be done.

Some investigations may include

  • Stool sample test for analysis to exclude infections
  • Blood tests
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • A lower GI series or contrast enema
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy

How is IBS treated?

There is no cure or “quick fix” solution for IBS, and the symptoms may come and go, making it challenging for patients and doctors to manage. The treatment involves combining lifestyle changes, addressing stress, anxiety, or depression, and using medications and probiotics.

Medical treatment

Your doctor may prescribe medication to relieve abdominal cramps, laxatives, antibiotics, antidiarrheals, and dietary supplements (e.g., fibre and probiotics). Antidepressant drugs or SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) may also help with IBS symptoms. 

Self-treatment

  • Regular exercise like walking, running, swimming, or cycling improves general well-being, relieves constipation, and combats psychological stress.
  • Enough sleep and relaxation techniques, e.g., aromatherapy, yoga, and meditation, may help. 
  • There is no specific diet for IBS suffers, but your doctor may recommend a diet to relieve the symptoms.

Consult with an Intercare doctor and dietician to assist with IBS treatment and care.

Sources and References Consulted:

  • Reader’s Digest Guide to Medical Cures & Treatments – A Complete A-to-Z Sourcebook of Medical Treatments, Alternative Options, and Home Remedies. p253.
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