Definition Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a condition characterised by abdominal cramping, bloating, flatulence, and other changes in the bowels.
What is going on in the body? Normally when a person eats, the stimulation of the food causes the muscles of the bowel to contract. This contraction then pushes the stool toward the rectum to the outside of the body. IBS seems to cause the bowel to be more sensitive to stimulation.
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome may include:
changes in stool. Some people with IBS may have painful, loose stools, or diarrhoea, while others may have painful hard stools, or constipation. Some people may alternate between diarrhoea and constipation.
the sensation that there is still more stool in the bowel immediately following a bowel movement
What are the causes and risks of the condition? It is not clear what causes IBS. Emotional stress and diet, especially one high in kilojoules and fat, seem to be some of the factors that increase the symptoms associated with IBS. Other factors include:
a colonoscopy, a procedure in which a tube with a camera on the end is used to look at the intestines
a full blood count, or FBC, to check for infection
stool tests and cultures to look for blood in the stool, infection, or parasites
a biopsy of any fluid or growths to rule out infection, tumour, or cancer
What are the long-term effects of the condition? Irritable bowel syndrome does not appear to damage the stomach or intestines. The long-term effects are often associated with stress and frustration over the symptoms.
What are the risks to others? Irritable bowel syndrome is not contagious and poses no risk to others.
What are the treatments for the condition? Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome often focuses on treating the symptoms and preventing flare-ups. This may include:
a diet low in fat and kilojoules, and high in fibre. Eating several smaller meals during the day rather than large meals, particularly in the evening, may also decrease the symptoms.
What happens after treatment for the condition? Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can and often do reoccur. A person with IBS needs to continue dietary management for the rest of his or her life. Antidepressants may not be needed after stress management or behavioural therapy helps a person gain control over emotions.
How is the condition monitored? Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.
Author: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia Last Updated: 1/10/2001 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
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