Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects the digestive system.
It causes symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. These tend to come and go over time, and can last for days, weeks or months at a time.
It can be very frustrating to live with and can have a big impact on your everyday life. It can be a lifelong problem.
There's no cure, but diet changes and medicines can often help control the symptoms.
The exact cause is unknown but IBS has been linked to things like:
food passing through your gut too quickly or too slowly
oversensitive nerves in your gut
a family history of IBS
The main symptoms of IBS are:
stomach pain or cramps – usually worse after eating and better after doing a poo
bloating – your tummy may feel uncomfortably full and swollen
diarrhoea – you may have watery poo and sometimes need to poo suddenly
constipation – you may strain when pooing and feel like you cannot empty your bowels fully
Other symptoms of IBS can include:
passing mucus from your bottom
tiredness and a lack of energy
feeling sick (nausea)
needing to pee often, sudden urges to pee, and feeling like you cannot fully empty your bladder
not always being able to control when you poo (incontinence)
There may be days when your symptoms are better and days when they're worse (flare-ups). They may be triggered by food or drink.
IBS flare-ups can happen for no obvious reason.
Sometimes they have a trigger like:
certain foods, such as spicy or fatty food
stress and anxiety
See a GP if you think you might have IBS
They can check for IBS and do some tests to rule out other problems.
Ask for an urgent appointment if you have:
lost a lot of weight for no reason
bleeding from your bottom or bloody diarrhoea
a hard lump or swelling in your tummy
shortness of breath, noticeable heartbeats (palpitations) and pale skin
These could be signs of something more serious.
cook homemade meals using fresh ingredients when you can
keep a diary of what you eat and any symptoms you get – try to avoid things that trigger your IBS
try to find ways to relax
get plenty of exercise
do not delay or skip meals
do not eat too quickly
do not eat lots of fatty, spicy or processed foods
do not eat more than 3 portions of fresh fruit a day (a portion is 80g)
do not drink more than 3 cups of tea or coffee a day
do not drink lots of alcohol or fizzy drinks