IBS tends to be characterized by either diarrhoea or constipation, or an alternation between the two complaints. Doctors refer to these IBS-D, IBS-C and IBS-A respectively. IBS-C, categorised by bouts of chronic constipation, is often accompanied by bloating and abdominal pain, too.
What all people with IBS have in common – whether theirs is characterised by constipation, diarrhoea or an alternation between the two – is that their symptoms match the Rome III criteria for IBS. This medical checklist used by doctors to detect irritable bowel syndrome states that the condition is a ‘recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort and a marked change in bowel habit for at least six months, with symptoms experienced on at least three days of at least three months’.
In addition to this, patients need to identify with at least two of these three statements in order to be considered an IBS sufferer:
Irritable bowel syndrome takes different forms amongst its sufferers, and the symptoms of any two IBS sufferers can be quite different. Visit our page on IBS symptoms as well as our pages on the diagnosis of IBS to find out about which of your symptoms are most likely to be due to IBS and how doctors recommend making a diagnosis.
Causes of IBS range from post-infective to psychological, and the condition can be triggered by all sorts of other things too – see our page on triggers.
Of course, this means that there are different ways to treat irritable bowel syndrome. These include a wide range of medication as well as diet and other therapies, depending on the type and cause of the IBS. See our IBS treatment pages for more details.
If your GP believes that your symptoms may be a result of IBS, there are a number of diagnostic tests that they may use to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may be carried out at your GP surgery, or may require you to attend a specialist as an outpatient.
Diagnostic tests they might request include:
Depending on the results given by these tests, your doctor should be able to rule out other conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases (like Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis), bile acid malabsorption, food intolerances, and of course, cancer. IN people with constipation, there may be a treatable cause which is not IBS so it is worth checking.
As we learn more about IBS, we realise that many people have a clear and treatable cause for their symptoms. Depending on what you are suffering with, your doctor may, therefore, recommend more specialist tests. Many of these tests are not yet widely avaialable. At the London Gastroenterology Centre, we work hard to ensure we have the most up to date tests available so that we can pinpoint your problems as accurately as possible. Please note that we do not offer all tests as some tests are simply unreliable. We only offer tests which have a scientific basis.
Tests can be easily split into tests for diarrhoea and tests for constipation. Many people have both constipation and diarrhoea, so it is important for the doctor to assess which tests you might need.
If you would like to access specialised tests for your problem, please contact us at the London Gastroenterology Centre. Call our office on 020 7183 7965 to make an appointment, or visit our contact page. Find out about our consultants here.
Patients often ask us how to cure IBS.
As yet, there is no known cure for IBS, so treatments are generally aimed at relieving symptoms and will differ depending on the issues you have been experiencing. But if you have a condition that mimics IBS, it may be completely reversible. For example an overactive thyroid can cause a diarrhoea predominant IBS picture but will respond very well to specific treatment for the thyroid.
The doctor will listen to you, assess your symptoms, as well as arranging appropriate tests or consulting the results of any tests already done, and your food and/or stool diaries if you have kept them. By studying all this information in detail your doctor can tailor a treatment plan to best suit your needs.
With the new tests our world class experts at the London Gastroenterology Centre have available, we can diagnose many people as having something which is actually not IBS and which can be cured. For example, if you have diarrhoea, you might be suffering from lactose intolerance, small bowel bacterial overgrowth of caecalmalfermenation. If you have constipation, the issue could be one of disordered anorectal function.
Although we cannot tell you exactly how to cure IBS, we can almost certainly help you feel very much better.
Quite often the main problems you may experience are one or more of the following:
Your doctor will prescribe treatments aimed at combating these particular symptoms.
Treatment for IBS comes in many different forms; it may involve taking medication to alleviate your symptoms, changing your diet to avoid aggravating your IBS, or undergoing therapy to improve relaxation and combat stress, a known trigger of the disease.
There is no specific IBS diet but there is a clear connection between diet and IBS. Lots of sufferers are able to manage their symptoms very successfully themselves by altering their own diet: either eliminating certain foodstuffs or introducing new items to their regime.
Some straightforward tips for good digestion are:
For a list of common IBS trigger foods, see our IBS triggers page.
A dietician might suggest that you follow the low FODMAP diet as a way to alleviate IBS symptoms and work out which foods need eliminating from your diet. FODMAPs are types of carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed into the small intestine. They’re thought to cause higher volumes of liquid and gas in the gut, leading to bloating and abdominal pain as well as other IBS symptoms. Since three of the major IBS trigger foods – wheat, lactose and fruit – are also high FODMAP foods, following the low FODMAP diet whilst keeping a symptoms diary can help you and your doctor or dietician diagnose the exact foods or food groups that are causing you trouble.
Exercise and IBS
Exercise is really important for digestion and it’s also great for stress-busting and promoting feelings of wellbeing. That’s not to mention what exercise does for the muscles and limbs.
Aim for five sets of thirty-minute sessions per week of non-competitive exercise. Walking, swimming, jogging and yoga are all superb options.
If you would like professional advice on how to help yourself, we are here to help you.
There are plenty of self-help routes for IBS sufferers. There are several ways that the condition can be managed from home, depending on your specific symptoms and triggers. For some, treating IBS symptoms with medicine (traditional or alternative) is the answer. For others, it’s dietary adjustments or lifestyle changes that bring about relief from the abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. From probiotics to peppermint oil, there are pills, supplements and herbal remedies out there for every type of IBS.
Many sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome manage their symptoms through self-help. Managing and changing diet is probably the most common way that people deal with their symptoms themselves. With the help of a food diary, most IBS sufferers will start to see clear patterns in their symptoms, and will start to pinpoint their specific IBS triggers.
For in depth information about IBS and diet, read our article about it here
There are also lots of herbs and supplements available on the high street, which can dramatically improve the various discomforts of IBS – bloating, gas and cramps as well as diarrhoea and constipation.
And this is only scratching the surface of possible alternative remedies for IBS symptoms. Taking probiotics is another method of self-help for IBS that can be easily made part of a daily routine.
Click here to see our detailed page about natural remedies
Patients whose IBS seems to stem from stress or anxiety can also benefit from Meditation and self-hypnosis, whether in classes or from MP3s which you can download from the Internet that can help you detach from your worries and relax.