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Irritable bowel syndrome

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

In irritable bowel syndrome there is a change in bowel habit (constipation, diarrhoea, or a combination of the two), and abdominal pain. There can also be other distressing symptoms such as abdominal bloating, unpleasant urgency to bowel opening and a feeling that the bowels have not been completely emptied.


What causes IBS?

We do not know for certain what causes irritable bowel syndrome, and in fact it is likely to be many different things rolled into one name. In some people a gastrointestinal infection (such as infective diarrhoea or gastroenteritis) can trigger IBS (so-called “post infectious IBS)".

Many find that symptoms are made worse by particular foods, although the culprit food groups are often different for different people .

As with everything in life, psychological stresses can make IBS symptoms worse, and in fact the gastrointestinal system appears particularly sensitive to psychological wellbeing (in fact the GI tract has been dubbed the body's "second brain" as it contains so many nerves).


How is IBS diagnosed?

As yet there is no test to positively diagnose IBS. Whether any testing is needed really depends on symptoms. In some cases little or no testing is needed (save perhaps a blood test). In other people it is  important to rule out other serious conditions. Tests to do this may include a colonoscopy to look directly into the large bowel. In some people scans such as ultrasound, CT or MRI  can be helpful. Breath testing to check for problems with sugar absorption or for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth can be useful. Discussing the symptoms with an expert will help decide which tests need to be done.



How is IBS treated?

In the same way as IBS is not one disease, there is no one treatment for everyone. There are, however, several useful approaches to treatment.


Dietary treatments

Many people with IBS find their symptoms can be triggered by certain types of food, and so elimination diets) can useful .The input of a specialist dietician is often very helpful with this. There are also specialist diets (e.g. a low FODMAP diet) that can be successful with the help of a trained dietician.



Medications such as laxatives (for constipation), or medications that slow the bowel down (for diarrhoea) are frequently used, as are antispasm medications (such as mebeverine) to treat cramps.

Probiotic (“friendly” bacteria) medications are occasionally used, sometimes with good results.

Occasionally pain can be treated with medications that reduce the over-sensitivity of nerves within the bowel.


Other interventions

Therapies such as hypnotherapy and acupuncture can be used with success in appropriate cases.


Who can I see if I am worried about IBS?

The Gastroenterology at Canary Wharf doctors are experts in IBS. They can offer top quality advice, diagnosis and treatment for IBS, and work as a team with an excellent team of dieticians and pain experts to give you all the support you need. Please call our secretarial team on 020 3727 0935, or email to make an enquiry or appointment.


Useful links

The IBS Network is the UK's national charity for IBS. Their website has plenty of advice and information on IBS.




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