What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disease of the digestive system that is both common and long-term. It is estimated to affect approximately 1 person in 5 at some point in their lives. However it most commonly occurs in adults in their 20s and 30s, and effects twice as many women as men [Ref].
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a recurring and chronic functional bowel disorder. It consists of abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhoea, and constipation (Hungin et al., 2014). IBS affects the small and large intestines, causing symptoms in the gut or bowel. It is a “syndrome” because it is a group of various symptoms that aggravate the gut; however, these symptoms may be expressed differently depending on the individual (Gucht, 2015). IBS is also considered a “gut-brain interaction” or disorder because the brain influences the gut, for instance, through stress and anxiety (Drossman, 2016) [Ref].
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is usually diagnosed by using symptom-based criteria. This is because there are no specific biological markers for the diagnosis (Hungin et al., 2014) [Ref].
As there are no tests available in allopathic medicine that allow doctors to be absolutely positive about the diagnosis, it is often given on a balance of probabilities. This balance depends upon the type of symptoms a person registers, as well as their severity and any known factors that make them better or worse. For this reason It has recently been suggested by a group of experts that there are a set of symptoms that can be used to make a positive diagnosis of IBS, with a good degree of reliability, via the use of the “Rome criteria”.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
What causes IBS is unclear. It appears that sensory nerves in the bowel can be hypersensitive in people with IBS. Also the intestinal muscles can be hyperactive.
But many factors can provoke symptoms. Stress is often cited as a contributory element as is eating irregularly or following abnormal diet. Overall, an interaction occurs between the nervous system in both the gut and brain, as well as the immune system of the gut.
In simple terms irritable bowel syndrome can be diagnosed when an adult presents with continuous symptoms or symptoms that have been recurrent for at least three months. These will include abdominal pain or discomfort which is:
- relieved by defaecation
- and/or associated with a change in the frequency of stools
- and/or associated with a change in the consistency of stools plus two or more of the following, at least a quarter of occasions or days
- more than three stools per day or less than three per week
- altered stool form (lumpy/hard or loose/watery)
- altered stool passage (straining, urgency or feeling of incomplete evacuation)
- passage of mucus
- bloating or feeling of abdominal distension
So, a doctor can be fairly certain of making a diagnosis of IBS if this pattern of symptoms is present. Equally a diagnosis requires that there are no other major symptoms present and a physical examination is normal. However it is very important to see get advice from your GP in the first instance to discuss your symptoms and to be examined and to receive an official diagnosis and guidance.