Hydref 2004 October

Health Matters

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

This is a common condition that affects one in five people in the UK. Some people have mild occasional symptoms, for example, at times of stress or eating certain foods which trigger symptoms. Others may have symptoms for long periods of time. Most people fall somewhere in between.

The exact cause is not known, there are no tests to prove IBS; it is usually diagnosed by the symptoms. Tests may be done to rule out other conditions such as colitis. It is very important to report a change in bowel habit that goes on for more than 2 weeks if you have not already been diagnosed as having IBS. In a healthy bowel the food is passed along by regular contractions (squeezes), the symptoms of IBS occur if the contractions are abnormal or overactive. Common symptoms are:

Pain - often described as colic,
Bloating of the abdomen - more wind than normal may be passed
Diarrhoea or constipation - some people experience both at different times
Other symptoms can include headache, belching, feeling sick, poor appetite and an irritable bladder
Passing blood is not a symptom of irritable bowel and should be reported to your doctor if it occurs.

What are the treatments?

Reassurance - it is good to be told it is IBS and not something more serious: don’t sit at home worrying, see your Doctor if you have symptoms.
Fibre - some people benefit from extra fibre in the diet, usually those who find constipation the main problem. If Diarrhoea - is the main symptom it may make things worse.
Antispasmodics - they work by relaxing the muscles of the intestine, different ones work in different ways. Therefore, if one does not work it is well worth trying a different one. When one works it can be taken as and when symptoms flare up to calm things down.
Diet - some people are successful in controlling their symptoms by identifying foods that cause symptoms and avoiding them.
Stress - people with anxious personalities may find symptoms difficult to control. The relationship between the mind and the over activity of the gut is a complex one. Some people find relaxation techniques and stress counseling and similar therapies useful.

For further help and advice The IBS network, Northern General Hospital, Sheffield, S5 7AU Tel: 0114 2611531

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