Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Written by Trisha Chandra
Pharmacist Mt Waverley

Around one in five Australians suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), also known as spastic colon. It is generally a chronic condition that can last for years or be lifelong. The underlying cause of IBS in unknown however certain factors can trigger IBS. Such triggers include:

  • Infection (such as gastroenteritis)
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Certain medications (such as antibiotics, painkillers) which can lead to either constipation or diarrhoea
  • Food intolerances such as fructose or lactose
  • Certain foods

The common symptoms of IBS are:

  • Abdominal pain and/or cramping
  • Alternating diarrhoea and constipation
  • Mucous in the stools
  • Abdominal bloating and flatulence
  • Nausea
  • Feeling of incomplete bowel emptying

These symptoms are quite broad and not exclusive to IBS, hence diagnosis by your doctor should always be confirmed. Other illnesses with related symptoms may include diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease, polyps or coeliacs. Diagnosis is confirmed with blood tests, stool tests or colonoscopy if necessary.

IBS cannot be cured. Treatment is based on symptom control. However incidents can be reduced and prevented with medications along with managing diet and lifestyle. Keep a symptom diary with a detailed record of stool consistency, frequency, pain, diet, medications, emotional status and exercise. From this, triggers of IBS can identified and avoided. Other treatment options include:

  • Anti-diarrhoea medications (such as Imodium) for diarrhoea predominant IBS
  • Laxative medications and/or fibre for constipation predominant IBS
  • Antispasmodic medications to ease cramping (Mintec)
  • Prescription medications prescribed by your doctor (antispasmodics and antidepressants)
  • Stress management if stress is a trigger
  • Reduce or limit lactose, fructose, caffeine, alcohol, if they are a trigger
  • Stick to an eating routine and avoid sudden changes of routine (ie regular and small meals low in fat)
  • Probiotics
  • Avoid foods which produce gas (beans, cabbage, lentils, insoluble fibers)
  • Follow a carbohydrate Low FODMAP diet. This usually is guided by a dietician

Along with other health professionals, your pharmacist can help you identify symptoms, discuss possible treatment options and counsel on medications, whether they are over the counter or prescription medications.


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International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders

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