The causes of irritable bowel symptoms may be unknown, but links have been made to oversensitive nerves in your gut, food passing through your gut too slowly or quickly, family history or stress. While a cure is yet to be developed, there are things you can do to help relieve and control symptoms.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a long-term and common condition that affects the digestive system. It causes abdominal pain, discomfort and bowel symptoms. It’s believed to affect nearly one in five people across the UK.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown, with no single effective treatment. This is partly because irritable bowel symptoms vary from person to person.
Research has shown IBS affects women more than men, and signs of irritable bowel syndrome usually emerge in your teenage years or early 20s.
There’s no known cure but, while there’s no perfect irritable bowel syndrome diet, changing your eating habits and taking certain medication might help you control the symptoms for a more comfortable life.
Causes and symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The exact causes of IBS are not yet known, but links have been made between a few possible factors that could trigger IBS. These include:
- Food – Passing through your gut too slowly or quickly. This can vary from person to person and might cause symptoms.
- Overly sensitive nerves in the gut – This may be linked to altered regulation of the brain-gut axis.
- Stress and anxiety – Feeling stressed can mean a greater chance of experiencing IBS symptoms.
Family history of IBS – You may have a genetic predisposition if IBS runs in your family, increasing your chances of developing the condition.
What are the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Whatever the cause of IBS, it can lead to uncomfortable and disruptive symptoms. These usually come and go over time.
The unpredictability of IBS means you can go months without any symptoms and then experience a sudden flare-up or find yourself living with the same symptoms for days, weeks or months.
IBS symptoms can include:
- Stomach cramps or pain
- Bloating and gas
Despite a lack of a single cure, diet changes, exercise and medication may provide some level of control over these symptoms.
Diet and IBS symptoms
There is no single irritable bowel syndrome diet that will relieve your symptoms. This is because an exact cause of IBS is still unknown and everyone’s body reacts differently to specific foods.
However, research and evidence-based guidance has shown certain food types may help relieve IBS symptoms, while others can act as triggers.
Consider the following key areas that may help you try to control your IBS symptoms.
Potential IBS trigger foods and drinks
An effective irritable bowel syndrome diet plan doesn’t just mean eating the right things. It’s also about avoiding foods and drinks that may trigger painful and uncomfortable symptoms. You might already know what types of food your own body struggles to digest properly and should look to replace these in your diet.
Keeping a food diary is a great way to track what you eat and help you to work out which foods could trigger your IBS flare-ups or symptoms.
There is no definitive list of foods to avoid with IBS as specific foods can spark symptoms in different people.
However, common IBS trigger foods can include:
- Insoluble fibre – Found in nuts, beans, potatoes and wholewheat flour, it can be harder to digest and increase pain and bloating.
- Dairy products – Some IBS sufferers find products such as milk to be a common trigger of symptoms.
- Beans and legumes – Despite being high in fibre and protein, some people find them hard to digest, which may cause bloating, gas and other IBS symptoms.
- Processed foods – Typically high in fat, sugar and salt they may trigger IBS flare-ups.
- Caffeine and alcohol – Both are known to trigger IBS symptoms in some sufferers.
Other ways to try to relieve IBS symptoms
As well as looking at your diet, there are other things you can try to help relieve symptoms of IBS.
Eating and cooking habits
Changing your eating habits and getting the right balance of healthy nutrients, while avoiding anything that could upset your gut, could help relieve some IBS symptoms.
Cooking at home using fresh ingredients means you’ll know exactly what you’re eating. It can also make it simpler to keep an accurate food diary. Avoid eating too fast and delaying or skipping meals. Ready meals are also often high in fat.
If you eat out, a few tips could help:
- Order sauces and dressings on the side.
- Avoid fried, oily and spicy foods.
- Ask for a small portion of dessert.
More ways to try to reduce IBS symptoms
A few other options may help as a treatment for irritable bowel symptoms.
You can treat diagnosed IBS-related diarrhoea with IMODIUM®. It helps restore your body’s natural rhythm and slows digestion to a normal pace.
A few other things you can try to relieve IBS symptoms include:
- Getting plenty of exercise
- Relaxing and reducing stress
- Applying a heat pad or hot water bottle to your stomach.
Should I consult a doctor?
If you’re not sure whether you have IBS but you’re experiencing some of the symptoms, it’s best to see your GP to get a diagnosis.