Our guide to Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome - or IBS - is a very common condition of the digestive system, thought to affect as many as one in five of us. The symptoms of IBS usually occur for the first time between the ages of 20 and 40, but can affect people of any age.

The most common symptoms of IBS are painful bouts of constipation and/or diarrhoea. This pain subsides after going to the toilet, which is one of the defining characteristics of IBS.

Sound familiar? Check your symptoms

If you do think you have IBS, it’s important to get checked out by your GP. This is because the symptoms of IBS can be similar to other more serious health issues -such as coeliac disease or an underlying infection - so, it is important to rule anything else out. Your doctor will want to know whether you have experienced any warning signs of a more serious problem, including weight loss or anaemia.

Most of the time, though, no underlying cause can be found and a diagnosis of IBS is made. For many people, this diagnosis can put their mind at rest. This in turn can ease the symptoms of IBS - because the symptoms are often made worse by stress. Indeed, psychological causes are often blamed for the physical symptoms of IBS, as stressful emotional states trigger chemical changes that are thought to throw the digestive system out of balance.

What causes IBS?

As well as stress, other common ‘triggers’ include:

  • - alcohol
  • - fizzy drinks
  • - chocolate
  • - caffeine
  • - processed, fatty or fried food

What can be done to ease IBS symptoms?

Since stress is a huge trigger for IBS sufferers, taking steps to minimise stress can make a huge difference to symptoms. Things that may help you to reduce stress include:

  • - regular exercise
  • - relaxation techniques or yoga
  • - cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling - your GP may be able to refer you for this.
  • It’s worth taking time to find something that works for you. Aside from helping you to deal with IBS, reducing stress has many benefits for your general health and wellbeing.

Other steps you can take to help control IBS include:

Eating more (of the right sort of!) fibre

If you suffer from constipation - eating more soluble fibre (that’s things like root vegetables, fruit, oats and barley) and drinking more water can help.

If you suffer from diarrhoea - cutting down on insoluble fibre (things like wholegrain bread, cereals and bran) can help

Eating regular meals

Drinking eight cups of fluid a day (especially water and decaffeinated herbal teas)

Limit fresh fruit to three portions a day

Taking a probiotic or an Aloe Vera supplement such as Perfect Aloe Matrix capsules

Taking medication - if you are really struggling with the symptoms of IBS, your doctor can prescribe medication. This will either be antispasmodic, laxative, antimotility - or antidepressant.