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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a functional disorder of the gastrointestinal tract, causing abdominal distress and changes in bowel movements. Unlike many GI issues, tests such as scans or endoscopies reveal no abnormalities; ‘functional’ refers to this absence of tangible findings.
IBS can present symptoms in a variety of ways, from mild to extreme. Unfortunately, due to the vague nature of IBS symptoms, many sufferers seeking medical help may have been misdiagnosed as only having ‘tummy colic’ or deemed to be suffering from mental pain.
Common symptoms of IBS include:
Treatment for IBS can be variable according to each patient as the underlying causes remain unclear and symptoms can differ drastically among those afflicted. It is essential to hone in on a personalised plan that addresses an individual patient’s needs.
Treatment for IBS involves both lifestyle changes and pharmacological treatment, but surgery is not necessary since there are no structural abnormalities. Pharmacological treatment can be broken down into two categories, constipation-focused treatments and diarrhoea-focused treatments.
Lifestyle changes are essential for improving IBS, no matter the categories.
It is important to take stress reduction measures, such as relaxation techniques and psychological support for improving the symptoms of IBS. Exercise can be beneficial too, though it likely works via a different mechanism to improve your IBS disorder.
Taking precautionary measures with certain food groups can be instrumental in reducing the symptoms of IBS. These cautions include avoiding FODMAP-heavy foods, dairy products, and gluten items; as well as supplementing your diet with dietary fibre and probiotics.
Medicines used to treat IBS can be categorised into two main groups; those designed for treating constipation and those made to tackle diarrhoea or loose stools. Different medications are utilised depending on the individual’s symptoms, whether they be primarily associated with either of the two categories.
For patients who are suffering from constipation, a mild laxative or stool softener is often prescribed to help improve their bowel movement frequency and establish some regularity. This can be beneficial in reducing abdominal discomfort, but the sensation of bloating may persist. Low-dose polyethylene glycol (PEG) may also be an option for treating this condition.
In contrast, those suffering from diarrhoea and frequent loose stools may find relief with anti-diarrheal medications. Furthermore, both groups of patients can treat abdominal pain and bloatedness through the use of antispasmodic drugs or peppermint oil capsules.
MBChB (NZ), FRACP (Australasia), MD (Doctorate), FRCP (Edinburgh), FAMS (Gastro)
Dr. John Hsiang is a Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist with more than 20 years of clinical experience across public and private practice.
Dr. John Hsiang’s special clinical interests are in gastroesophageal reflux disease, stomach conditions, fatty liver, and gastrointestinal cancer screening
Dr. John Hsiang has spent more than five years in the Singhealth cluster serving in the Gastroenterology Department at Changi General Hospital and Sengkang General Hospital.
Gastrointestinal Diseases, Endoscopy, Helicobacter Pylori infection, Viral Hepatitis, Fatty Liver Disease, Management of Abnormal Liver tests.
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