Irritable bowel syndrome


A condition that causes abdominal pain and a change in the way the bowel works

About Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is a disorder of the way the muscles and nerves in the gut work. It is called a ‘functional gut disorder’ because it is a problem with gut function rather than the structure of the bowel. The condition affects up to one in five people at some point in their lives. Although it is often a life-long condition, it can improve over several years.

Need to know

  • Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome icon plus

    Symptoms vary but may include:

    • loose and frequent stools (diarrhoea)
    • hard stools which are difficult to pass (constipation)
    • bloating and the feeling of not having emptied your bowels completely, so needing to return to the toilet shortly after a bowel action
  • Diagnosis icon plus

    IBS is diagnosed by matching up your symptoms with examination findings and diagnostic test results. Blood tests, stool tests and a variety of endoscopic and radiological tests are used to exclude other serious conditions. The necessary tests vary from person to person but may include:

    • gastroscopy, to examine the stomach and first part of the small bowel
    • colonoscopy, to examine the large bowel and last section of the small bowel
    • capsule endoscopy, to examine the rest of the small bowel
    • imaging tests, such as ultrasound, CT and MRI scans
    • breath testing for sugar malabsorption

    Most people need only some of these tests.

  • Potential treatment options​ icon plus

    Although there are no cures for IBS, treatments are available that can improve your symptoms and quality of life. These include:

    • Lifestyle changes. Your diet can make a significant difference. Reducing the amount of stress you experience and increasing your ways of coping with stress can also help.
    • Probiotics and medicines.  Probiotics can supplement your diet and may help to relieve symptoms of IBS. You are advised to take this for at least four weeks to determine its effectiveness. Medicines to relieve the symptoms of IBS are available such as laxatives, antispasmodics, anti-motility medicines and low-dose antidepressants.

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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