It is estimated that one in five Australians suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with the condition.
Although doctors don’t yet know what causes it, environmental factors like a change in routine, emotional stress, diet and infection, can all trigger an attack.
IBS is characterised by a group of symptoms that occur over a long period of time and negatively affect your quality of life.
Due to the ’embarrassing’ symptoms, many people who experience IBS don’t seek treatment. Although there is no simple cure, there are many ways IBS can be managed.
Here are the five key signs you’re suffering from IBS, and it’s time to do something about it.
Many people with IBS will complain that they “look pregnant” particularly after a meal.
Patients say their abdomen appears flat in the morning, but as the day progresses, tight clothes such as jeans become uncomfortable.
Bloating is more common in women.
2. Cramping and wind
It is highly likely that a person with IBS will experience abdominal pain, due to the inflammation of the bowel.
The pain is described as “crampy” or as a “generalised ache”, and varies from sharp, dull or gas-like.
Discomfort is often relieved by the passing of a bowel movement.
3. Diarrhoea or constipation
IBS can be either diarrhoea-predominant, constipation-predominant, or can alternate between the two.
If you are having less than three bowel movements a week, that could be a sign of constipation.
Constipation is typified by infrequent stools, difficulty or straining when going to the toilet, and the feeling of not being able to completely empty during a bowel movement.
If you are having more than three bowel movements a day, that could be a sign of diarrhoea.
Diarrhoea is typified by loose or watery stools, excess gas, need to go to the bathroom after eating, a feeling of not properly emptying bowels and losing control of your bowels.
Many people with IBS experience fatigue and lethargy.
Factors such as heightened stress, pain, disrupted sleep and difficulty properly absorbing nutrients can all contribute to fatigue.
Approximately four in every 10 sufferers will experience nausea.
Pain itself can be a primary cause, but it's also associated with other symptoms such as bloating and fullness.
Although not always the case, certain foods can also trigger a bout of nausea.
Other less common symptoms include gastroesophageal reflux, headaches, backaches, depression, anxiety and sexual dysfunction.
If any of these signs sound familiar, then visit your local GP. IBS can be treated by learning to manage stress and making changes to your diet and lifestyle.
For people with severe IBS, there are medications available, such as antidepressants and even antibiotics.
For more information, visit the Health Direct website, supported by the Australia government, here.