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IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common health complaint that can cause misery to sufferers. Find out about its symptoms, causes and treatments, and how you can help alleviate or rid yourself of this debilitating and sometimes embarrassing condition.

Are Your Irritable Bowels Making You Miserable?

IBS Symptoms


Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) generally start for people in their 20’s or 30’s but can begin at any age and affect some people more severely than others. 


IBS affects up to 20% of the UK population at some point in their lives and is more common in women than men. Whilst uncomfortable, fortunately IBS is usually harmless.


Like most conditions, symptoms vary from person to person, however the most common signs of IBS include:

  • Stomach cramps or abdominal pain.

  • Bloating.

  • Diarrhoea with an urgency to have a bowel movement.

  • Constipation.

  • Irregular bowel movements (more or less often than usual).

  • Stools (‘poo’) that is either more watery or harder and more lumpy than normal.

  • Passing mucus.


Causes of IBS


It is still uncertain what triggers Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Typically, stress and anxiety, diet and the nervous system are most closely associated.


The nervous system


Nerves send messages to the bowels telling them how quickly to remove waste. Overactive nerves can therefore cause the bowels to remove waste too quickly (diarrhoea), or over sensitive nerves can send too many pain signals to the brain, causing increased abdominal pain and cramping. Alternatively, underactive nerves can cause waste to stay in the bowels too long (causing constipation).

Stress and anxiety

Some evidence suggests that stress and anxiety could also trigger chemical changes that interfere with the normal workings of the digestive system. For example, many people who have never suffered with IBS can be affected when they have to face a stressful situation, such as a job interview, or exam.



Diet is also believed to play a key factor in triggering IBS. Common culprits include:

  • Alcohol.

  • Fizzy drinks.

  • Chocolate.

  • Fatty or fried food.

  • Caffeine (tea, coffee, coke).

  • Processed snacks like crisps and biscuits.


How can I Help Myself?


It is important to look at your lifestyle and consider making certain changes to help control IBS symptoms.


  • Find ways to manage stressful situations or examine what causes your stress. Breathing exercises, counselling, yoga, relaxation classes or recordings, meditation and acupuncture can all help.

  • Keep a food diary to try and identify possible triggers of an IBS attack.

  • Consider a diet free from FODMAPS. These are sugars that are found in milk, wheat and a variety of fruit and vegetables which are poorly absorbed by the digestive system (find out more on the IBS Network

  • Include more fibre in your diet and drink more fluids.

  • Be more active. Physical activity can significantly improve digestion.


If you are concerned that you are suffering from the symptoms of IBS you should visit your GP in order to gain a diagnosis and rule out any other concerning conditions. Following diagnosis, consulting a dietician or specialist in Gastroenterology (tummy problems) can help you work out a bespoke treatment plan for your IBS and find the best treatment for your individual case.