Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common functional disorder of the bowel or large intestine. IBS is a chronic or long-term condition and treatment typically is aimed at managing the symptoms.

Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, can develop at any age, but it does occur more frequently in people under the age of 50.

IBS is also more common in women and oestrogen therapy and the menopause may play a role. Genetics may also play a role.

IBS is rarely dangerous and does not increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer, but the symptoms can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.

Frequently Asked Questions

These vary from patient to patient, but often include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Changes in bowel habits, particularly in terms of frequency and stool consistency
  • Increased flatulence
  • Mucus in your stool
  • Feelings of incomplete evacuation
  • Symptoms (specifically pain and bloating) can worsen after food
  • Symptoms (specifically pain and bloating) that can improve or indeed worsen after evacuation of wind or stool

These symptoms could indicate a more serious condition so it’s best to have this ruled out by seeing your GP or specialist.

The exact cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is unknown. Factors that are thought to play a role include:

  • Muscle contractions – the walls of the large intestine are lined with muscles that help move the food through your digestive tract. Stronger or more frequent contractions can cause pain and sometimes more frequent stools.
  • Gut hypersensitivity – where you are more aware of gut function and more likely to experience pain when the bowel is working.
  • Weak contractions can lead to constipation
  • The neurophysiology of the bowel can change leading to increased bowel distension with gas that can make you feel bloated.
  • Changes in the neural network of the bowel and abnormalities in the signals between the brain and intestine (the so called gut-brain axis) can cause changes in how the bowel functions and also how the brain perceives bowel function leading to the development of IBS symptoms felt by the sufferer.
  • Changes in gut flora can change and thus alter gut function.
  • An infection – patients often find they develop IBS after a severe bout of gastroenteritis.

Stress and food intolerances are fairly common triggers for IBS symptoms. People often find it confusing when they develop new intolerances to foods that they previously could eat with impunity.

Although there is currently plenty of research there is no current verified test for IBS and it is usually diagnosed by discussing your symptoms. Mr Michael Stellakis may request tests to rule out other conditions. These may include scans and bowel endoscopy.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBS and it is undoubtedly partly due to this and the fact that IBS is not a serious illness that it is not treated particularly well by the medical community. Often used a ‘fob off’ the diagnosis of IBS can trivialise in the patient’s mind what are sometimes severe symptoms and sufferers can feel uncared for, but there is a lot that can be done to improve symptoms if not eradicate them. The management plans will vary according to symptoms but include dietary and behaviour modifications, probiotics and medications etc. Mr Stellakis has over the last 10 years established a respected interest in IBS and sees many patients with this condition. Above all time and patience is needed in the management of IBS sufferers – something which is in short supply in the NHS.