IBS is a common condition that affects the digestive system.
It causes symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. These tend to come and go over time, and can last for days, weeks or months at a time.
It’s usually a lifelong problem. It can be very frustrating to live with and can have a big impact on your everyday life.
There’s no cure, but diet changes and medicines can often help control the symptoms.
The exact cause is unknown – it’s been linked to things like food passing through your gut too quickly or too slowly, oversensitive nerves in your gut, stress, and a family history of IBS.
Common IBS symptoms
The main symptoms of IBS are:
stomach pain or cramps – usually worse after eating and better after doing a poo
bloating – your tummy may feel uncomfortably full and swollen
diarrhoea – you may have watery poo and sometimes need to poo suddenly
constipation – you may strain when pooing and feel like you can’t empty your bowels fully
There may be days when your symptoms are better and days when they’re worse (flare-ups). They may be triggered by food or drink.
passing mucus from your bottom
tiredness and a lack of energy
feeling sick (nausea)
problems peeing – like needing to pee often, sudden urges to pee, and feeling like you can’t fully empty your bladder
not always being able to control when you poo (incontinence)
See a GP if you think you might have IBS
They can check for IBS and do some tests to rule out other problems
What can trigger IBS symptoms
IBS flare-ups can happen for no obvious reason.
Sometimes they have a trigger like:
certain foods – such as spicy or fatty food
stress and anxiety
Other symptoms of IBS
Ask for an urgent appointment if you have:
lost a lot of weight for no reason
bleeding from your bottom or bloody diarrhoea
a hard lump or swelling in your tummy
shortness of breath, noticeable heartbeats (palpitations) and pale skin
These could be signs of something more serious.
Diet, lifestyle and medicines
There’s no single diet or medicine that works for everyone with IBS. But there are lots of things that can help if you’ve been diagnosed with it.
General tips to relieve IBS symptoms
cook homemade meals using fresh ingredients when you can
keep a diary of what you eat and any symptoms you get – try to avoid things that trigger your IBS
try to find ways to relax
get plenty of exercise
try probiotics for a month to see if they help
delay or skip meals
eat too quickly
eat lots of fatty, spicy or processed foods
eat more than 3 portions of fresh fruit a day (a portion is 80g)
drink more than 3 cups of tea or coffee a day
drink lots of alcohol or fizzy drinks
You can buy a card or key from The IBS Network shop or Disability Rights UK shop that can help you access public toilets if you get symptoms while away from home.
How to ease bloating, cramps and farting
eat oats (such as porridge) regularly
eat up to 1 tablespoon of linseeds a day
avoid foods that are hard to digest – like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, beans, onions and dried fruit
avoid products containing a sweetener called sorbitol
ask a pharmacist about medicines that can help, like Buscopan or peppermint oil