What is IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that affects the large intestine (colon). IBS is a functional disorder, meaning that the bowel does not work, or function as per normal. This disorder more commonly affects women than men.


Causes & risk factors

The exact cause of IBS is not known. People with IBS appear to have extra sensitive muscles and nerves in the bowel. These muscles may contract too much when you eat causing abdominal cramps. In some cases, food may be forced through your bowel more quickly, causing diarrhoea during or shortly after a meal. In others, food passes slowly through the bowel causing hard stools and constipation.

IBS can affect people of any age. However, you are more likely to have IBS if you are young, and have a family history of IBS. Symptoms of IBS can be triggered or worsened during periods of stress or menses. Many people find their symptoms worsen when they eat certain foods but this varies between individuals.


Signs & symptoms

The signs and symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Some may experience only mild symptoms whereas for others, the problem can be disabling.

The most common symptoms of IBS are:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • A bloated feeling / abdominal distension
  • Mucus in the stool
  • A sense of incomplete bowel movement



The symptoms of IBS can affect your overall quality of life. People with IBS may avoid social engagements, and may sometimes also feel depressed.

Other complications include worsening of piles due to long standing constipation and malnourishment due to avoidance of certain foods.



IBS has no cure. You can control the symptoms of IBS by managing your diet, lifestyle, and stress levels. The treatment for IBS focuses on treatment of symptoms.

The doctor may prescribe some medications to help you with some of your IBS symptoms. Some of these medications may include laxatives for constipation, antidiarrhoeals for diarrhoea and antispasmodics or pain killers to control abdominal spasms and pain respectively.

Keeping stress in check by meditation and regular exercise may also help to reduce the trigger for IBS symptoms. Spend time with your family and friends because they will provide support and encouragement.

There are no foods that are beneficial to all IBS sufferers. Most people can control their symptoms by making customised changes to their diet. These diet changes include:

  • Avoid certain foods that may make IBS worse in some such as alcohol, fatty foods, chocolate, caffeinated drinks like coffee and carbonated drinks like soda.
  • Eat food with fibre such as fruits and vegetables to avoid constipation.
  • Eat four to five small meals a day as large meals can cause cramping and diarrhoea for those affected by IBS.


*Source: Health Promotion Board

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