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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.

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