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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

  • What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder that affects the normal function of the colon (large intestine). IBS can cause a lot of discomfort and pain, changes in bowel habit (constipation or diarrhoea) and bloating. IBS is not life-threatening as it does not cause permanent damage to the colon, intestinal bleeding or serious complications such as cancer.

  • There is no exact cause for IBS but people suffering from the disease tend to report one of the following conditions:

    • Food passes through the bowel quickly and forcefully, leading to diarrhoea
    • Food passes very slowly through the bowel, leading to constipation
    • Sensitive muscles and nerves in the bowel. Excessive contraction of these muscles when you eat can lead to cramps in the abdomen (belly)

    Other risk factors of IBS include:

    • Age – IBS generally affects people under 45 years old
    • Having a family history of IBS
    • Leading a stressful life
    • Suffering from infection or swelling of the gut
  • The symptoms of IBS varies greatly between affected individuals. Symptoms can range from mild to disabling, such as:

    • Changes to the texture of stools (small hard pellets or loose stools)
    • Changes to bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation)
    • Feeling an urgent need to go to the toilet
    • Feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
    • Finding mucus in stools
    • Having a lot of gas
    • Having abdominal bloating
    • Having pain or cramps in the abdomen (belly)

    You need to be aware, though, that these symptoms are similar to those of colon cancer and thus you need to get your condition evaluated by your doctor.

    There are also less common symptoms of IBS such as general tiredness, backache, headache, sweating, nausea, vomiting and experiencing pain when going to the toilet.

  • There is no cure for IBS. Treatment comprises treating your symptoms and avoiding the risk factors that trigger the onset of your IBS. Your doctor will suggest a suitable treatment plan for you, which can include a combination of the following:

    • Activities and medication to keep your stress in check
    • Dietary changes that include:
      1. Avoiding alcohol, fatty foods, chocolate and caffeinated drinks
      2. Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables to increase your fibre intake
      3. Eating small meals
    • Medication to help alleviate your constipation, diarrhoea or abdominal pain and cramps

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