What is IBS?
Introduction to IBS
What is it?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common medical condition affecting around 1 in 10 people worldwide where the intestinal tract’s (i.e., small intestine and large intestine, or colon) normal function is disturbed, resulting in various symptoms(e.g., abdominal pain, bloating or distension, diarrhea, constipation). Symptoms and their severity can vary from one person to the next, however, the diagnosis usually falls into one of three primary types: diarrhoea-predominant, constipation-predominant, and IBS with mixed bowel habits (i.e., diarrhoea AND constipation). For diagnosis, symptoms need to have begun 6-months prior and been present in the previous 3 months.
Symptoms can vary in severity –IBS can be a mild annoyance one day and a significant disruption the next. The condition is not life-threatening but can nonetheless significantly impact qualify of life by interfering with normal eating, sleep, work/study, social activities, physical recreation (e.g., sports, going to the gym), and romantic relationships. Those with the condition may not want to participate in normal, valued activities when they are in pain, and may need to make special arrangements to manage their condition (e.g., being near a toilet, making alternative food arrangements). Itis often episodic in nature, with symptoms flaring up in response to various triggers. These triggers can include specific foods (e.g., fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, dairy), stressful events, and psychological distress (e.g., anxiety).
IBS belongs to a group of conditions known as functional disorders more recently renamed to Disorders of Brain-Gut Interaction (DBGI). That is, when the bowel is examined using an endoscope, there are no observable structural or biological abnormalities (e.g., inflammation, cancerous cells, scarring/narrowing). IBS involves abnormalities in the way the bowel functions, such as increasing or decreasing the speed at which food/waste moves through the intestinal tract (i.e., gut motility). Although these changes do not cause lasting damage to the digestive tract, as is the case in other conditions (e.g. inflammatory bowel disease), they are nonetheless capable of causing substantial distress and disruption. IBS has no cure, but there are a multitude of strategies available to reduce its’ impact. With some planning and lifestyle changes individuals with IBS can minimise their symptoms and lead a full life.
Who is affected?
IBS can affect anyone, of any sex, at any age, although some groups are more likely to develop it. For example, the condition is more common younger people and tends to affect females more. Global prevalence estimates suggest that 1 in 10 people are affected by this condition. By their nature, IBS symptoms can be a source of embarrassment or social discomfort. It is therefore important to understand that IBS affects people from all walks of life and, statistically, there are likely many people within your community and social circles that understand and relate to the challenges of living with IBS –you are not alone!