IRRITABLE Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a condition involving the gut that is caused by disorders in the movement of food through the gut. It does not involve inflammation as in Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, and it can improve or resolve without treatment.
Common symptoms include abdominal pain or cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhoea or constipation or alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhoea, mucus or slimy 'cold' in the stool. IBS does not cause bloody stools or weight loss and if those symptoms are present they could be a sign of a more serious condition such as cancer.
Dr Alfred Dawes, general, laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon, said the causes of IBS are not fully understood. What is known is that food allergies and the local neurological system in the gut play a very important role in its development.
When people eat certain foods such as chocolate, spicy foods, fatty food, beans, cabbage, milk, sodas and alcohol, they trigger hyperactivity of the 'gut brain' that increases or decreases the contraction of the muscles primarily in the colon leading to cramping and constipation or diarrhoea.
Certain other triggers may lead to over or under activity of the gut such as stress and mild illnesses.
Women and younger people under 45 are most likely to get IBS. If a family member has been diagnosed with the condition then your chances of getting it are increased. It is very important that you get checked out if you have a sudden change in bowel habits especially if you are over age 50. Do not ascribe the symptoms described as IBS until a doctor has fully ruled out other causes.
Treatment of IBS includes avoiding foods that cause a flare up. Eliminating wheat and dairy products has been shown to provide relief in some people. Others have used prebiotics with good effect as the bacteria in these products help to stabilise the gut flora. Destressing and getting adequate sleep is of great importance.