Who's affected?

IBS is the most common gut condition and affects one in five people at some time, mostly people aged between 25 and 45. Women are more often affected than men.

Although the exact cause is unknown, and it isn't possible to prevent IBS from developing, there are certain things that trigger attacks and so should be avoided, including stress, irregular mealtimes and, in some cases, a lack of dietary fibre. Some people develop IBS following gut infections and food poisoning.

What are the symptoms?

The following are all common in IBS: abdominal cramps that may be eased by passing wind or passing a motion; bloating and abdominal distension; diarrhoea, constipation, or alternating diarrhoea and constipation; and a feeling of incomplete emptying of the rectum.

Other possible symptoms that aren't related to the gut include backache, tiredness, headaches, and urinary or gynaecological symptoms.

IBS doesn't develop into bowel cancer.

What's the treatment?

Peppermint oil and antispasmodic medication relieve abdominal pain. Anti-diarrhoea medication will stop diarrhoea. If constipation is a problem then increasing fluid, fibre, activity, as well as taking a gentle laxative may be recommended.

Some people with IBS find that increasing the amount of dietary fibre and reducing caffeine helps. Reducing stress and taking time to relax is important. Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, are often used.

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