What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a relatively common condition of the digestive system. Although presentation varies between suffers, IBS is associated with pain or discomfort in the abdomen, usually on the lower abdomen on the left side. It is common for pain and cramping to get worse after eating meals and subside somewhat after defecating. People with IBS usually experience unpredictable changes to bowel habit and alternating bouts of diarrhoea and constipation. Other symptoms of IBS include the following:
- mucous in stool
How common is IBS?
IBS usually presents when a person is in their 20s and is more common in women than in men. It is estimated that around one in five people suffer from IBS at some point in their life and, unfortunately, the condition often persists life-long. Those who suffer from IBS may well have no symptoms for weeks or months until the next flare-up occurs
Treatment of IBS
1. Lifestyle changes
- Eat regular meals and do not rush eating
- Drink plenty of fluids but limit intake of caffeinated or carbonated drinks
- Reducing dietary fibre intake may help, particularly limiting the amount of foods that are rich in insoluble dietary fibre such as wholemeal bread and cereal
- Probiotics may help manage symptoms of IBS but evidence of this is lacking
- Exercise regularly
- Remove triggers e.g. stress
2. Drug treatment
- Laxatives - should be considered if constipation is a problem. Bulk-forming laxatives (e.g. ispaghula husk) are a good treatment option. Stimulant laxatives (e.g. senna) can also be of use but should be used with caution long-term for risk of developing atonic colon
- Anti-diarrhoeals (e.g. loperamide) - should be considered if diarrhoea is a problem.
- Antispasmodics - should be considered if abdominal pain and/or flatulence is present. Several antispasmodics are available including hyoscine, mebeverine and peppermint oil. These drugs are antimuscarincs that reduce intestinal motility. Side effects include constipation, dry mouth, dilatation of pupils, urinary urgency and retention etc.