Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Understand irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and its causes and symptoms.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects your gastrointestinal tract—stomach and large intestine (colon)—causing various symptoms including cramps, bloating, pain, diarrhoea and constipation. It is a chronic condition that people need to manage over the long term.

What causes irritable bowel syndrome?

We still don’t know the exact cause of IBS, but several factors likely contribute to its development:

  • Abnormal gut motility — when the muscles in your intestines contract too much or too little
  • Visceral hypersensitivity — increased sensitivity to pain and discomfort in their intestines
  • Gut-brain axis dysfunction — when communications between the brain and the gut are disrupted
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Certain foods — especially FODMAPs (certain types of carbohydrates that can be poorly absorbed in the small intestine), dairy, gluten, spicy foods, foods high in fat, and caffeine.

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome

Fortunately, only a small number of people with IBS have severe symptoms but most will experience some degree or a mix of the following:

  • Recurrent abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Diarrhoea (IBS-D)
  • Constipation (IBS-C)
  • Uncomfortable bloating and gas in the abdomen
  • Mucus in stools
  • Incomplete evacuation — feeling like you can’t completely get all if your stool out of you when you want to

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