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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

​It is a condition also known as 'sensitive gut' or 'spastic colon' or 'nervous colon'. In the US, it affects 20% of people. In Singapore, it affects about 10% of people. IBS tends to affect more women than men.  IBS tends to occur most frequently in the 30s and 40s.

Causes of the condition

​No one knows the exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome, but it has been associated with altered bowel motility (gut that moves faster, or slower or even tends get spasms), visceral hypersensitivity (people with IBS tend to be more aware of their gut contractions and movement), psychological factors (stress tends to trigger IBS symptoms and dealing with prolonged IBS symptoms can be stressful), neurotransmitter imbalance, and infection or inflammation of the gut (about 30% of patients report IBS symptoms after a bout of gastroenteritis).

Signs & symptoms

  • ​Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation

'Red flag' Indicators

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Age of onset over 60
  • Family history of bowel or ovarian cancer
  • Unexplained, unintentional weight loss
  • Abdominal, rectal or pelvic masses
  • Anaemia
  • Raised inflammatory markers
Diagnostic and treatment options

There is no specific test to diagnose IBS. It is mainly a clinical diagnosis after exclusion of certain 'red flag' indicators. There are certain diagnostic criteria that will help your doctor make a diagnosis. 

There is no 'magic pill' to cure irritable bowel syndrome but there are certain things you can do to make yourself feel better. First thing would be to have a better understanding of this problem and then learning what you can do to help yourself. We do know that there are certain food triggers that can bring about the symptoms, so do have an awareness of the food you take, have a food diary and take note of when your symptoms occur. With that you can slowly avoid the 'triggering' foods. Do not eliminate all your foods such that you do not get enough nutrients. Stress too can also trigger off symptoms, so relaxation techniques can keep symptoms at bay.

Depending on whether you are bothered by pain from spasms, or diarrhoea or constipation, your doctor can prescribe some medication for you to help decrease the symptoms.


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