Irritable bowel syndrome: what it is and how to manage it

Irritable bowel syndrome is synonymous with a digestive disorder that doesn’t have a cure, but that can be controlled. Learn how. Click To Tweet

Irritable bowel syndrome comprehends other definitions, such as: “nervous colon”, “spastic colon”, or “irritable colon”. It is twice more prevalent in females. Understand what this is about and which signs of alert you should pay attention to.

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (USA), irritable bowel syndrome is a set of symptoms that arise together, and they comprehend recurrent abdomen pain and changes in your bowel movements, which may include diarrhoea, constipation, or both. With irritable bowel syndrome, these symptoms may occur without any visible signs of damage or disease in your digestive tract.

The aforementioned set of symptoms may be explained by the fact that the bowel system of these patients is more sensitive and reactionary to factors such as, for example, diet and consumption of certain beverages, as well as anxiety and stress.

Consequently, the bowel function is altered, interfering with the number of times the patient has a bowel movement, as well as the condition he empties the bowel (either going more or less often than normal – diarrhoea or constipation), and also the consistency of the faecal matter.

You can say there are four different subtypes of this syndrome, being:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome with constipation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhoea
  • Mixed irritable bowel syndrome
  • Unclassified irritable bowel syndrome

As researched by the National Health Service (UK), irritable bowel syndrome is usually a lifelong condition. Patients live with frustration and are subject to major impacts on their everyday life.

No cure is yet to be found, however, some dietary adjustments and medication can frequently relieve and manage symptoms better.

Irritable bowel syndrome: what it is and how to manage it


The origin of this syndrome isn’t yet totally clear to the specialists. However, it’s a common belief that the causes may be either physical or psychological, namely:

  • Changes in “communication” between the brain and the bowels;
  • Issues with gastrointestinal mobility;
  • Imbalance in gut microbiota;
  • Intestinal hypersensitivity;
  • Depression, anxiety, stressful early life events such as sexual abuse;
  • Bacterial gastroenteritis;
  • The proliferation of bacteria in the small intestines;
  • Genetics;
  • Sensitivity to certain types of foods.


Some symptoms that you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome are: abdominal pain/distension or discomfort, flatulence, diarrhoea, and/or constipation. There might even occur: 1, 2, 3

  • Changes in frequency of bowel movements;
  • Less consistent, more liquid, or harder faeces;
  • Urgent need to defecate;
  • A sensation of incomplete emptying of the bowels;
  • Mucus in stools.

The pain usually affects the lower area of the abdomen and, generally, it manifests after the ingestion of foods. Discomfort associated with it is usually relieved after having a bowel movement or passing gas. Still, the display of these symptoms can be lifelong and worsen with stress.

Nausea, headaches, fatigue, and anxiety, are other symptoms that can be associated with this condition.


It’s fundamental to seek medical attention so that he can conclude a more accurate diagnosis and a rigorous therapeutic approach. Among some of the screenings that can be required for the assessment of the patient and subsequent diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome are:

  • Endoscopy exams (sigmoidoscopy and, colonoscopy or upper endoscopy);
  • Laboratory exams (faecal occult blood and stool tests);
  • Radiologic exams and ;
  • Psychological assessments.
Irritable bowel syndrome: what it is and how to manage it

How to relieve the symptoms

While there is not yet a cure, symptoms associated with IBS may be relieved if certain preventive measures are adopted, such as:

  • Having a balanced low-fat diet, and avoiding certain products, such as dairy products, coffee, alcohol, sweeteners ending in “-ol”, beans, and kale.
  • Taking prescribed drugs by the doctor (like fibre supplements, laxatives, antidiarrhoeal, probiotics, and antispasmodics, among others);
  • Treating psychological problems that are associated;
  • Psychotherapy to manage stress, anxiety, and depression;
  • Physical exercise.

On the other hand, it’s important to say that the relief of the symptoms tends to be a rather slow and gradual process, and so the patient must be very resilient and perseverant.


The best way to try and prevent this illness is to avoid the identified risk factors. So, it’s important to have an overall healthy life, based on an especially balanced diet, regular physical exercise, and also equally important, balancing stress levels.

Pay attention to the alert signs and seek medical advice if your symptoms last over time and if they negatively impact your quality of life.


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