Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) impacts approximately 15% of the UK population. Affecting the large intestine, symptoms range from mild to severe. In general, IBS can be managed without medication. However, for those suffering with severe symptoms, medication alongside counselling may be recommended.

In order to manage the condition, it is important to identify it early and correctly. This can be done by understanding the common symptoms of IBS, as well as understanding what triggers it. In this blog, you’ll discover the symptoms to watch out for and common triggers to be aware of.

What are the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

The signs and symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome can vary greatly between patients. Some may experience severe symptoms, while others may experience minor or intermittent symptoms. The most common symptoms of IBS include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Diarrhoea/constipation
  • Changes in bowel motions
  • Bloating and windy symptoms
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Fatigue/trouble sleeping

Most patients will experience some level of abdominal pain or cramping when they have IBS. This is poorly understood but may have something to do with distorted nerve signals between the brain and gut, leading to spasm within the muscles of the digestive tract and oversensitivity of the gut to pain. The pain typically affects the lower abdomen or the entire abdomen area.

Around one third of patients will experience diarrhoea with IBS, while around 50% will experience constipation. You may also experience changes within your bowel movements, such as mucus or change in stool shape or consistency. Importantly, if blood is detected in your stools, it is imperative to get checked over by your doctor as it could point to something more serious. Blood in your poo is never directly associated with IBS.

Bloating and gas are also common symptoms of the condition, caused by altered digestion and possible changes in bowel flora. Around 70% of patients also experience food intolerance, causing them to avoid certain foods.

More than half of patients also report dealing with fatigue. The more severe the symptoms, the more likely you will be to develop fatigue. Finally, anxiety and depression are also common in those with IBS. Altogether, the symptoms can lead to a poorer quality of life.

What triggers IBS?

There are a lot of things that can trigger IBS, and they vary between patients. Some of the most common triggers include:

  • Certain foods
  • Lack of sleep
  • Medications
  • Meal spacing
  • Hormones and periods
  • Stress and anxiety

Food triggers are the most common, the most important of which are the so called FODMAP foods. These are essentially fermentable sugars that occur in many of the things that we eat, often healthy things, that produce gas from bacterial action upon them. Spicy and fatty foods can also prove problematic. Caffeine is also a common trigger. Lactose and gluten (wheat) can be an issue for some people. Different people will be triggered by different foods, making it useful to keep a food diary.

Not getting enough sleep, lack of exercise and certain medications could also trigger a flare up. Not spacing out your mealtimes correctly can also cause problems for your digestive system.

These are the most common triggers to be aware of. Learning your individual triggers can aid in managing IBS. Keeping a trigger diary is one of the most effective ways to identify the things that set off the condition, helping you to avoid them.

If you are struggling with IBS, book a consultation with leading colorectal surgeon Mr Michael Stellakis. He can advise on treatments that can help you to manage the condition and give you a better quality of life.