If you are female, aged between 20 and 60, suffer from pain in the lower
left-hand side of your abdome, offensive wind, bloating, constipation, diarrhea,
erratic bowel movements, heartburn, tiredness, back pain, rumbly tummy and
mucus in your stools, it is likely you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS isn’t
actually a disease, but a label for a group of symptoms.
It is more common among women, and it’s on the increase. Technically, IBS is a
functional disorder of the large intestine. Normally the muscle works in a coordinated
fashion, but if you have IBS, the muscles contract irregularly and tend to spasm,
causing alterations in bowel habit.
What causes IBS?
Nobody knows for sure, however some experts believe that interaction between the
brain and the bowel is abnormal in people with IBS. The result is that the nerves in
the gut and those controlling the gut are particularly sensitive. Therefore something
which would normally not pose a problem to most people, like a little intestinal gas,
may cause you pain and bloating.
Other possible causes include hormones (many women find that signs and symptoms
are worse when they have their period) and certain foods, although IBS appears
unlikely to be directly related to a particular food.
What your Doctor can do:
There isn’t any test that can tell if you have IBS. Your doctor will usually diagnose
IBS when other conditions that have similar symptoms are ruled out.
Treatment is generally aimed at alleviating the symptoms – with some remedies working
better for some people than for others. Managing IBS may take time but between the
two of you, you will be able to develop a lifestyle program and perhaps a medication
plan that will suit you when you need it.
How to Manage IBS:
There’s a lot you can do for yourself. Look for the following factors which aggravate
What is diet like?
Some cases of IBS occur because diet is poor and meals contain high amounts of
fatty foods, coffee and cola drinks and low consumption of high-fibre, healthy foods.
Keep a food diary to help identify foods that trigger symptoms and then avoid them.
During a flare-up, steer clear of spicy and fatty foods and caffeine. Also avoid sugar
substitutes that contain sorbitol and mannitol, which can cause gas.
How much fibre?
A high-fibre diet does help most people with IBS, but it can be a mixed blessing. By
eating more dietary fibre you may find constipation and abdominal pain improve but,
initially, you may have more gas and bloating. Unprocessed bran is the most common
culprit in this regard, especially if it has been finely milled to produce small flakes.
Eating this type of fibre may cause more problems than it fixes, so it is probably better
to get your fibre from other food sources.
*Do you drink too much alcohol or smoke?
If you do, don’t smoke, and restrict alcohol; both stimulate peristalsis.
Are your symptoms worse after consuming milk or ice-cream?
Learn more about lactose intolerance.
Are your symptoms worse with stress?
Breathe easy – yoga, meditaion and massage therapy are among the many relaxation
strategies that can reduce stress and improve IBS symptoms.
Are your medications making it worse?
Some medications may aggravate diarrhea. If you are taking any medications,
ask your pharmacist if there are any side effects.