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Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, distension, wind and flatulence and diarrhoea/constipation.
The main problem is that the IBS sufferer may experience all or none of these symptoms at any given time. There is often no obvious reason why the symptoms flare.
Usually there is an initial trigger for the first IBS episode, such as an attack of gastro-enteritis, the use of antibiotics, or some significant life event such as bereavement or other emotional problem.
Conventional medication is aimed at suppressing symptoms and this, combined with the standard dietary advice involving high fibre intake may be unhelpful and can make symptoms worse as well as causing unpleasant side-effects. Certain foods can cause a flare of IBS symptoms but identifying them can be a problem due to the variable nature of the symptoms which may be triggered by combinations of foods and other triggers like anxiety.
Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

The main purpose of investigations in patients with IBS is to exclude more sinister pathology such as inflammatory bowel disease or cancer, particularly if there is a history of weight loss or anaemia. The diagnosis of IBS  is often made on the history and examination alone in younger patients; older people with IBS may require tests such as colonoscopy (examination of the bowel using a fibre-optic telescope) or a barium enema x-ray. For symptoms higher up the digestive tract a gastroscopy or barium meal x-ray may also be considered.

Examination of the stools for blood and evidence of infection is also helpful in diagnosis of IBS, particularly if patients have signs of anaemia or there is a previous history of infection.

Food intolerance testing can be very helpful both in terms of diagnosis and choosing specific treatments for IBS. Conventional allergy testing is often unhelpful because exclusion of positive findings using skin and blood tests rarely helps with symptoms – apart from Coeliac Disease where gluten exclusion can be extremely effective.