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Irritable Bowel Syndrome




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All of us know that constipation and diarrhoea are two bowel problems with completely different symptoms. However, patients who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome may face both problems. Let’s find out what we can do to prevent this syndrome.


As the name suggests, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the digestive system, particularly the large intestine (colon). Researchers have yet to identify the exact cause of IBS, but fortunately, with proper treatment and lifestyle changes, it is possible to keep the effects of IBS to a minimum. IBS patients tend to be young – mostly females under the age of 45, who have a family history of IBS.


Some Common Symptoms


1. Swollen stomach: Feeling as if there is unusually excessive “gas” in the stomach, to the extent that your clothes feel tight

2. Irregular bowel movement: Constipation, diarrhoea or even both i.e. alternating between constipation and diarrhoea; stools range from pellet-like ones to loose ones; some patients may feel a sense of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement

3. Stomach cramp and ache: Usually occurs in the lower part of the stomach and eases after a bowel movement 


Some patients may also suffer from other less common symptoms, such as fatigue, backache or headache, sweating, fainting, nausea or vomiting for no apparent reason.



Researchers have yet to find out the exact cause for IBS so far, but some of them have suggested possible causes, including:


  • Insufficient fibre intake
  • Stress
  • Irregular eating time
  • Hypersensitive colon
  • Bowel muscle spasm


How is IBS being detected?


Besides finding out if a possible IBS patient has any of the aforementioned symptoms, his or her doctor may ask the patient to undergo some health tests. Some of the tests include:


1. Flexible sigmoidoscopy: Used to check out for signs of blockage or inflammation on the lower part of the colon – known as sigmoid – with a flexible, lighted tube called sigmoidoscope

2. Colonoscopy: Serves similar basic function as a sigmoidoscopy, but examines the entire colon; this is especially used for patients aged 50 or older, or who are suspected to suffer from a more serious condition

3. X-ray: To get an image of the colon

4. Blood tests, stool tests or tests for intolerance or allergy: As there is currently no medical test that can directly diagnose if a patient has IBS, some of these tests are used to rule out other diseases or medical conditions that have some similar symptoms as IBS, such as food allergies, enzyme deficiencies, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease and other gastrointestinal disorders.




Currently, one of the best ways to improve IBS condition is through dietary and lifestyle changes. These changes can include:


1. Avoid caffeine products, such as coffee and tea

2. High-fibre fruits and vegetables – apple, bananas and dark-coloured vegetables are some of the best fibre sources

3. Avoid “gassy” food or drinks

4. Avoid gluten food, such as wheat and rye

5. Drink sufficient amount of water each day

6. Do not smoke

7. Exercise and learn to relax

Some doctors may suggest patients to take medications, such as:


Fibre supplements: Useful for IBS patients with constipation as these supplements will not cause  much bloating as compared to natural fibre food


Laxatives: Helps to relieve constipation


Anti-diarrheal medication: As the name suggests, this type of medicine helps to ease diarrhoea


Antidepressants: If an IBS patient is found to have depression, his or her doctor may recommend the patient to take antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor; these medications may help to relieve IBS by controlling depression and inhibiting neurons that affect the intestines


Antispasmodics: Used to relieve bowel spasm; however, this type of medicine has side effects, such as worsening constipation, difficulty in urinating and drowsiness 


High-Fibre Foods


• Apples

• Pears

• Broccoli

• Carrots

• Spinach

• Whole grain food and cereals

• Beans and seeds

• Nuts, such as almonds or walnuts

Know This Stat


A local study published around 2003 put the population prevalence estimate on IBM in Singapore at 8% to 10%.


Source: Prime Magazine Jun - Jul 2017 Issue. Reproduced with permission.

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