What is IBS?
If you frequently suffer from abdominal pain, bloating and a change in your bowel habit, you are not alone. This condition is often referred to as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS and is very common. In fact, approximately 15% of people in Australia suffer from IBS.
IBS is a chronic condition and is very costly to the community in terms of medical consultations, days missed from work as well as the cost of medications. IBS can also have a significant effect on the quality of life.
IBS affects the nerves and muscles of the colon or large intestine. This is the part of the digestive system that stores stool. People who suffer from IBS appear to have oversensitive nerves and abnormalities in the contractions of the bowel muscles. IBS does not damage the colon or other parts of the digestive system and does not lead to other bowel or health problems.
IBS usually begins in the late teens or early twenties and is more common in women than men. Symptoms often appear before a woman’s period.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
Symptoms of IBS vary from person to person and come and go.
The main symptoms your doctor will look for when diagnosing IBS are
referred to as the ABC of IBS:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Bloating or a feeling of fullness
- Change in bowel movements
- more than 3 motions per day or fewer than 3 motions per week
- change in stool form or appearance, e.g. pellets, pencil-like or unformed motions
- change in stool passage, e.g. straining, urgency or a feeling of incomplete emptying
Sometimes constipation is the predominant symptom. But with some people diarrhoea will be the predominant symptom and some sufferers have alternating diarrhoea and constipation.
Other symptoms that may also be present in IBS are:
- Excessive wind
- Audible abdominal noises and rumblings
Abdominal pain usually occurs in the lower abdomen, frequently on the left side. It is often worse in the morning and relieved by passing wind or having a bowel movement.