What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation.

IBS is believed to affect 1 in 5 people at some point in their lives, usually developing in people from 20 to around 30 years of age. Symptoms of IBS may vary between different people, some being affected more frequently with more severe symptoms. Symptoms can last from up to a few days or to a few months at a time and can be linked to times of stress or after eating specific foods. You might find that symptoms improve after emptying your bowels.

The cause of IBS is unknown although it is believed to be linked to the sensitivity of the gut and issues with digesting food. Such problems may cause you to experience constipation and diarrhea due to food passing either too quickly or too slowly through you digestive tract. Psychological effects such as anxiety and stress are also linked to IBS and can enhance your symptoms.

When to consult your GP

If you believe you are suffering from any of the symptoms discussed in this article then it would be advised to contact your local pharmacist. Over the counter medicines are available for you to purchase at their recommendation. Your GP may be able to identify IBS in conjunction with your symptoms however blood tests can be needed to rule out any other conditions.

There is no specific cure for IBS however there are modifications that can be made to your diet and lifestyle to help manage your symptoms:
- reducing your stress levels
- identifying with foods and drinks that trigger your symptoms
- alter the amount of fibre in your diet
- attempt to exercise regularly

Medication can be prescribed by a GP to treat specific symptoms experienced by the individual.

Unfortunately IBS is very unpredictable, it may be that months pass without any symptoms and then they can suddenly flare up. IBS can be painful and very often feel debilitating and can impact on the individuals quality of life. It is very common that those with IBS do experience at some point both anxiety and depression and their emotional state altered.

If anxiety and depression from IBS are having an affect on your daily life it would be advisable to contact your pharmacist or GP. Problems such as these that are happening on a more frequent basis are treatable with antidepressants and or CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) helping to treat the symptoms experienced by the person.

IBS does not increase your chances of developing cancer or other bowel-related conditions. With the correct treatment and lifestyle changes it is very much possible to live a full and active life.

Facts and figures

IBS is believed to affect 1 in 5 people at some point in their lives, usually developing in people from 20 to around 30 years of age.
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