What is it?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a fairly common disorder that affects the large intestine. About one in five South Africans suffer from this chronic condition, although only a small number of sufferers display severe signs and symptoms.
Although symptoms vary from person to person, the most common include: Pain in the abdomen. Bloating and cramping, usually relieved by passing a bowel movement. Diarrhoea or constipation, sometimes in alternating bouts. Mucus in the stool. Excess gas. Most IBS sufferers experience periods of time where symptoms subside or are non-existent, and periods where their symptoms flare up more severely.
Doctors don’t have a definitive answer regarding the causes of IBS, but researchers have offered several theories: IBS might be caused or exacerbated by hormonal changes – 70% of sufferers are women. The immune systems of IBS sufferers may respond differently to stress and infection. IBS sufferers may have a more sensitive colon.
In IBS sufferers, the brain may perceive contractions in the gut more severely than in non-sufferers.
There isn’t a single diet or medication that works for everyone, but some general dos and don’ts can make a difference.
Eat fresh, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Get plenty of exercise. Take probiotics regularly. Keep a food diary to track foods that might trigger your IBS. Drink lots of water.
Drink alcohol or fizzy drinks in excess.
Eat a lot of fatty, spicy or processed foods. Delay or miss meals. Eat too quickly. Drink more than three cups of tea or coffee a day.
What to watch for
A persistent change in bowel movements might indicate something more serious. See your doctor if you experience severe symptoms, including: Weight loss. Diarrhoea during the night. Problems swallowing. Pain that doesn’t ease from passing gas or a bowel movement. Iron deficiency anaemia. Unexplained vomiting. Rectal bleeding.