What is IBS and How to Manage It

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder (gut condition) which affects approximately 15% of the population. It is a functional disorder, as it cannot be identified by finding abnormalities in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but its diagnosis comes from the symptoms that people experience and which are not associated with other illnesses.

IBS Explained

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is also known as nervous colitis, nervous colon and spastic bowels.

IBS affects around 10 – 15 % of the adult population, but only about 5% have been diagnosed.

IBS sufferers can experience various symptoms from the esophagus and stomach area to the bowels, such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Bloating (pressure in the abdomen)
  • Distension (the abdomen increases in circumference)
  • Noisy abdomen
  • Gassiness
  • Diarrhea (IBS-D)
  • Constipation (IBS-C)
  • Alternate diarrhea and constipation (IBS-A)
  • Passing of mucus when defecating
  • Acid reflux and heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Headache
  • Depression

The severity of IBS symptoms varies from person to person, with some people experiencing symptoms that come and go, while others have to deal with much severe daily bowel problems which affect their work, sleep and their ability to enjoy life.

What causes IBS?

At present we are not 100% sure about the exact cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but it seems that a faulty communication between the brain and the intestinal tract could be causing abnormalities in how the GI tract deals with its content.

Other elements to take in consideration may be:

IBS Diagnosis

While there is no definite way to test IBS, a physician can diagnose IBS if a person shows the typical signs and symptoms that are related to the syndrome. The doctor will also ask about a person’s medical history, after examining and testing the abdomen to determine if internal organs are larger than normal. Doctors will also look into the most common symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, changes in bowel habits, etc. The most common way to diagnose IBS is the Rome criteria.
A lot of the IBS symptoms are common to other illnesses and therefore your doctor may also carry out some tests to eliminate any other ailments, which can cause similar symptoms:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool sample, to check for blood or evidence of infection
  • Sigmoidoscopy, in which a flexible, lighted tube with a tiny camera at the end is inserted into the rectum and up the left side of the colon
  • Colonoscopy, in which a longer tube is used to examine the entire colon

IBS Treatment

Research has indicated that altering one’s diet can improve symptoms of IBS. While it does take long to discover what works well for an individual suffering with IBS, keeping track of one’s diet and staying away from the foods which seem to trigger symptoms of IBS is a good way to go. The low FODMAP diet has been proven successful in relieving those nasty IBS symptoms for the majority of IBS sufferers. The following are just some of the foods that have proven to flare up symptoms of IBS:

  • Onion, garlic, cauliflower, corn, peas, sweet potato, most beans
  • Most fruit juices
  • Some dairies such as milk, custard, yoghurt
  • Honey, some jams types
  • Certain fruits like apples, apricots, avocado, cherries, grapefruit, mango, nectarine
  • Carbonated drinks, gums and beverages which contain artificial sweetener.

Here you can find a complete list of FODMAP content in common food that you can print out.

My belly was so bloated I looked pregnant

No, I’m not pregnant!

When to Call a Professional

To be safe, contact your doctor if you notice the following:

  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss/weight gain
  • Blood in your stool
  • Abdominal pain that is accompanied by vomiting, dizziness or fainting
  • Abdominal pain or diarrhea during night time.

While there is no cure for IBS, most people can lessen the distressing symptoms by following a low-FODMAP diet .

Needless to say, it is always a good idea for those who have already been diagnoses with IBS to get the help of a dietitian specialised on the low FODMAP diet.

If you want to learn more about IBS, here is a very informative lecture from Prof. Peter Gibson, Professor and Director of Gastroenterology at The Alfred and Monash University. (Don’t be scared by the length of the video, this lecture is packed with must know information for those suffering from IBS!)


Looking for IBS help and information about the low FODMAP diet? We have compiled a complete collection of IBS symptoms, treatments and guidelines to help you with the condition and follow the right course of action. Irritable bowel syndrome affects 10-15% of the adult population and causes bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation in some cases. Severity varies from person to person, but for most people symptoms can be improved by avoiding certain foods and following a low FODMAP diet.

Please note that I’m not a health professional. In this blog I am sharing my experience with IBS and with the low FODMAP diet. This is purely my experience and it is not my intention to give you advice. When it comes to your health and fitness, please consult your GP, dietitian and other health professional .



13 comments on “What is IBS and How to Manage It

  1. Larah this is another great knowledgeable article explaining both to individuals with IBS and those questioning if they have IBS on what it is, how to manage it and some great resources to help even further.

    • Thank you Mike, I appreciate your comment. When I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I didn’t even know what it was, hopefully there are more resources now out there, where people can find information.

  2. IBS and colitis are not the same. Colitis is an IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) which is different than IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

    • Thank you for your comment Erin and yes you are right, the two are very different, as explained in another article “Differences Between IBS and IBD”. The right word should have been “nervous colitis” for IBS, the one you mean is “ulcerative colitis” for IBD. I’ll add “nervous” now, so that there is no confusion.

    • Hi Daynes, I’m glad you found my post useful. Most people with IBS don’t even know they have it and continue suffering, while there are so many adjustments to diet and lifestyle that can be done. If only…

  3. Don’t know if what I have is IBS, I only visit the toilet when I eat, when I don’t eat i get hungry, no matter how little I eat and it repeats. I manage by drinking water and eating some fruits, but I’ll try the low fod map diet and see what works

    • Hi Christine, although there are great information on this blog and on internet in general, a visit to the doctor and a dietitian is what I did first. Good luck with it all, I hope you get better soon.

  4. IBS pains can be severe and confusing. Some cramps can be confused for more serious complications, such as a ruptured appendix, for example. Knowing when these pains come and go can further aid in less anxiety when experiencing the discomfort.

    • Thanks for stopping by Heidi. In my case I was able to be diagnosed with IBS, only after ruling out other diseases. Always visit your GP if in doubt.

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