Medical information for patients

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition which causes the intestines (bowels or gut) to be over sensitive. This can cause a variety of abdominal and bowel symptoms. There is no cure, but most people can, with the help of their doctor, learn to control and live with their irritable bowel.


These are the main symptoms that occur, and it seems that the bowel is more sensitive to outside events. Thus, in the way that someone with sensitive skin comes out in a rash when stressful events occur, a person with irritable bowel syndrome finds that when they are stressed it is their bowels that "come out in sympathy".

This means that symptoms may be worse when under psychological stress or when being physically stressed, for example by an infection, exhaustion or other conditions. The problem may also be irritated by certain foods and drinks (which vary from person to person).


Nobody really knows why IBS exists and, as there are such a variety of manifestations, it may be that there is more than one cause. We do know that it is very common, affecting as many as one person in five.


There is little to find, apart from the symptoms. Physical examination, X-Ray tests, and blood tests show no major problems. It is really a question of the doctors excluding more serious causes for the symptoms.

They will be more likely to do this if you:

The tests, which may well involve seeing a specialist, are likely to include the following:


There are a number of treatments, and in medicine this usually means that the perfect answer has yet to be found. It is usually a case of experimentation between the doctor and the patient to find what suits that particular individual. This is also true of the diet. Broad generalisations can be made, but over time the person develops an understanding of what upsets them and what does not. Usually people do find that they can keep their symptoms at bay.

The treatments include:


Further information


The IBS Diet, by Dr Sarah Brewer, Michelle Berriedale-Johnson
A helpful book for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
IBS Relief, by Dawn Burstall RD, Michael Vallis PhD, Geoffrey Turnbull MD
A doctor, a dietician, and a psychologist provide a team approach to managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
The Good Gut Guide, by Stephanie Zinser
Help for IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, Chron's Disease, Diverticulitis, food allergies and other gut problems.

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