What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Other names: IBS or Spastic colon

IBS is a diagnosis made generally by exclusion once all other possible organic pathologies for the specific symptoms are eliminated by various investigations.

What are the Symptoms?

Irritable bowel syndrome is characterised by symptoms of:

Abdominal pain or discomfort
Diarrhoea and or Constipation
Occasionally weight loss/ gain
Rarely vomiting

The symptoms can overlap and be brought on by a 'trigger' such as a recent change in diet, social circumstances (stressful life event) or a gut infection.
Some patients may also describe a feeling of malaise and headaches.

Common Causes

No specific cause can be attributed to giving rise to IBS, but as mentioned above there can be certain 'triggers'. Various theories of causes have been suggested, such as infection, stress induced, anxiety related and an abnormal immune response but most physicians feel that no specific cause can be pinpointed for any individual with a multi-factorial causation likely.

How is it Diagnosed?

There is no specific test for this condition. Most patients that present with these symptoms are investigated with:

An abdominal ultrasound
Upper +/- Lower GI endoscopy
CAT scan in some patients may also be necessary

Other clinical conditions such as coeliac disease, lactose intolerance and malabsorption syndrome are excluded.

What is the recommended treatment?

There is no specific treatment for this condition.

Most patients undergo dietary adjustment and avoid food types that they are intolerant to.

Antispasmodics such as mebeverine (colofac) can also be tried as well as probiotics in some patients

If patients are suffering from diarrhoea or constipation then appropriate medication can be prescribed for these symptoms, so long as no other cause has been ascertained.

Some patients are counselled after there is no organic pathology found especially if there are any new social factors that may have contributed to some of the symptoms.