Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

(old term: spastic colon)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders of the digestive system. IBS can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, which is one reason for the variety of symptoms that patients may experience.

Symptoms

The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain and changed bowel habit (e.g. diarrhoea). However, many other symptoms are reported by patients: abdominal bloating; flatulence; audible bowel noises; indigestion; nausea; headaches; fatigue; muscular aches and pains; and bladder or gynaecological symptoms.

Symptoms that are unlikely to be due to IBS include severe abdominal pain, diarrhoea which wakes the patient during the night, and weight loss. Symptoms that are not due to IBS include bleeding from the bowel and fever. IBS does not cause anaemia.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is based on symptoms, although sometimes it is necessary to perform investigations to exclude other bowel disorders.

Medical Treatment

The treatment of IBS will depend on the type of symptoms. For instance, if the predominant bowel pattern is one of constipation, measures to improve bowel function will usually help the abdominal pain. If diarrhoea is the major symptom, factors which trigger the diarrhoea (such as specific foods) need to be assessed and eliminated. Analgesics and antispasmodics may be prescribed for control of pain, but are less useful than measures to improve bowel function, and are best used in brief courses.

Other Treatment

Antidepressant medication, relaxation therapy, psychological counselling, special diets, and alternative therapies all have a role in some patients