Health Matters: Soothing Those Irritable Bowels

December 10, 2009
Wales Online
Dr. Elena Douse

Q For the past two years I have been suffering from abdominal pain and bloating. The pains tend to come and go and I often get bouts of diarrhoea. I started college in September and I have noticed that my symptoms have been worse since then. My mum has irritable bowel syndrome and she thinks I may have this too.

A Your symptoms do sound typical of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Thought to affect up to 20% of the population, IBS sufferers experience abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea. Some patients also notice a mucous-like discharge in stools. The exact cause of IBS is not well understood, but symptoms are thought to be linked to a number of dietary, psychological, genetic and environmental factors.

IBS is usually a life-long condition and you will find you go through phases where your symptoms are manageable, or may even disappear. Similarly, you will also experience flare-ups, where your symptoms become particularly troublesome. Flare-ups often coincide with stressful times and this is probably why your symptoms have been worse since starting college. If you suspect you may have IBS, you should visit your GP in order to confirm the diagnosis.

IBS should be a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ and I only make the diagnosis once more serious conditions have been ruled out. Your GP will want to know about the pattern of your symptoms and whether you have experienced bleeding from the back passage or unexpected weight loss (red-flag/sinister symptoms). You may also be asked about your mood and whether you have any history of depression. If I suspect IBS is the cause of the symptoms, I often ask patients to keep a food diary. More…