IBS Patient Information Fact Sheet

What is irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) consists of a number of symptoms. The most important symptoms in IBS are abdominal pain and abnormal bowel habit. Many patients with IBS get crampy abdominal discomfort or pain, which comes and goes, and is often relieved by emptying the bowels. The bowel habit is often irregular—sometimes diarrhea, sometimes constipation and quite often swinging between these two extremes. Some patients may notice they need to get to a bathroom in a hurry. Other symptoms vary from individual to individual but include a sensation of bloating, visible abdominal swelling, a sense of incomplete emptying of the bowels and passage of mucus from the rectum. Many patients notice that they lack energy and sleep poorly.

Is IBS common?
IBS is one of the most common disorders of the digestive system and up to one-third of the population experience symptoms from time to time. Women are slightly more affected than men and IBS is most often found in people under the age of 45. IBS is one of the most common reasons for patients to visit a doctor. In turn it is also a very frequent reason for doctors to refer patients to a specialist in gastrointestinal disorders.

What causes IBS?
It’s not thought that IBS has a single cause. There seem to be many reasons why patients develop the condition. In some people, eating irregularly or taking an abnormal diet may be responsible. Others notice IBS developing after they have had a bout of food poisoning or gastroenteritis. Some people believe that stress makes their symptoms worse. It seems probable, however, that there are other causes that are not yet known.

Why is IBS painful?
During digestion, the intestine squeezes its contents along our insides toward the anus for elimination. This process is usually painless and we do not realize that it is happening unless there is abnormal squeeze within the bowel or, for some reason, the intestine becomes overactive. These changes can be quite painful. Some patients with IBS seem to be very sensitive to the way that their intestines are moving.