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Irritable bowel syndrome treatment

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the digestive tract that can cause unpleasant symptoms, such as pain. bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea. It isn’t a disease of the gut, but rather the function of the gut that isn’t working as it should.

If you have noticed a change in your bowel habits, the first step is to contact your GP. If you are diagnosed with IBS, you may be able to manage the condition through diet, lifestyle changes and over-the-counter or prescription medication. A referral to a gastroenterologist can rule out other issues that could be causing your symptoms.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition, the symptoms of which you may experience on a regular basis. You may find that your symptoms are triggered or ‘flare up’ on stressful days, after eating certain foods.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

The most common symptoms of IBS are cramping, sharp pain, bloating (excessive gas) or a change to your bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation). Some people also notice that there is mucus in their faeces, and some experience back pain, nausea and tiredness.

There are symptoms that are not typically associated with IBS, which are known as ‘red flag’ symptoms. These may indicate that further tests are required to rule out other conditions. Red flag symptoms can include unexplained weight loss, a persistent change in bowel habit, symptoms starting in someone over the age of 50, blood in the stools, low iron levels and/or anaemia (a low blood count).

What causes IBS?

While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, it may be caused by oversensitive nerves in the gut, triggered by stress or caused by changes to your diet. Some people experience the symptoms of IBS after a bad case of food poisoning.

IBS is more common in women than men. Most people are diagnosed before the age of 30, and it can be more common in people with mental health issues, such as anxiety.

Diagnosing and treating IBS

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, make sure you speak to your GP. While there isn’t a test for IBS, a diagnosis can be reached by understanding your patient history and the description of your symptoms.

Your GP may also request tests, such as blood tests, to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms, such as coeliac disease (an autoimmune response to gluten).

What treatments are available for IBS?

If you receive a diagnosis of IBS, there are things you can try to help manage your symptoms. These include getting regular exercise, managing your stress levels or seeking support for anxiety, and keeping a food diary to track what might be triggering cramps and loose stools.

Beyond this, your GP may recommend an antispasmodic medication to ease the spasms. Some of these medications may be available over the counter, while others will require a prescription.

When to see a specialist consultant

If you have tried managing your IBS symptoms, but things are not improving, or you are experiencing any of the ‘red flag’ symptoms, your GP may refer you to a gastroenterologist (a doctor specialising in diseases of the digestive system).

What happens during an appointment with a gastroenterologist?

The purpose of an appointment with a gastroenterologist is for the consultant to understand your symptoms and to use advanced tests to rule out other conditions.

The consultant will want to review your GP records, check any test results and discuss your symptoms in detail with you. While there is no test for IBS, they may want to test for other conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease. These tests might include an X-Ray, CT scan or MRI, or taking a closer look at your digestive tract using a procedure called a colonoscopy.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a test that enables a consultant to look inside your colon (large intestine). It is a type of endoscopy that involves inserting a small camera into the rectum through a tube. At Sulis Hospital, we have a specialist JAG-accredited endoscopy service, which ensures you experience the highest standards of safety and care during your examination.

Before the procedure, you will be given laxatives to empty your bowels. You may also be given a sedative to help relax you on the day. In addition to taking a closer look at your colon, it is possible to take biopsies (samples) during a colonoscopy.

What is a sigmoidoscopy?

The sigmoid colon is the lower part of the large intestine. A sigmoidoscopy is like a colonoscopy, but it is focused on the lower half of the colon (it doesn’t go in as far). In addition to taking a closer look at what might be causing your symptoms, it may be possible to take biopsies from the area during the procedure.

Experience outstanding patient care at Sulis Hospital

At Sulis Hospital Gastroenterology Unit, our consultants are highly experienced at diagnosing and treating issues of the digestive system. You may also benefit from the skills of a multidisciplinary team, including surgeons, nurse endoscopists and dieticians, to help you better understand and manage your diagnosis.

Sulis Hospital has been rated outstanding for care by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), and we pride ourselves on creating a relaxing and welcoming environment for our patients. Get in touch today to find out more.

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  • Covered by health insurance? Yes

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