Word on Health

Word On Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Our grateful thanks to Guts UK for their input to our radio report, which you can hear again via the audio player at the bottom of this page, and for the use of the information below supplemented with guidance from the NHS  

Irritable Bowel Syndrome IBS) is the most common disorder of the digestive system, with up to one third of the UK population experiencing symptoms. It is thought to be caused by the gut and brain over-communicating. In other words, talking to one another too much.

Symptoms can include:

  • Constipation, diarrhoea or a mixture of the two
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal bowel habits
  • Wind, bloating and distension (a widening of the firth of the abdomen)
  • Pooing mucus
  • 1/3 of IBS patients have bouts of constipation. Another 1/3 have bouts of diarrhoea. The final 1/3 don’t fall into a single pattern.
  • Feeling tired
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Backache
  • Bladder symptoms

IBS can happen at any age but the usual age for patients to seek advice is between 20 and 40 years. Women are slightly more affected than men by IBS.

Treatments are very individual, as they can vary depending on the symptoms. They can include medications, diet and lifestyle factors. It’s important to work alongside your doctor on what treatments you’d like to try. It’s important to remember that what works for one person may not work for the next. Learn as much as you can about what there is out there to try when it comes to IBS treatment.

To help your GP before you see them note down;  

  • what symptoms you have
  • if they come and go
  • how often you get them
  • when you get them (for example, after eating certain foods)
  • how long you've had them for

There's no single test for IBS, but you might need some tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.

The GP may arrange:

  • a blood test to check for problems like coeliac disease
  • tests on a sample of your poo to check for infections and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

You will not usually need further tests in hospital unless the GP is not sure what the problem is.

What happens if you're diagnosed with IBS? If the GP thinks you have IBS, they'll talk to you about what it is and what the treatment options are. It might be difficult to take in everything they tell you.

If you're unsure about something afterwards, write down any questions you have and make another appointment to go over them.

General tips to relieve IBS symptoms


  • cook homemade meals using fresh ingredients when you can
  • keep a diary of what you eat and any symptoms you get – try to avoid things that trigger your IBS
  • try to find ways to relax
  • get plenty of exercise
  • try probiotics for a month to see if they help


  • Delay or skip meals
  • Eat too quickly
  • Eat lots of fatty, spicy or processed foods
  • Eat more than 3 portions of fresh fruit a day (a portion is 80g)
  • Drink more than 3 cups of tea or coffee a day
  • Drink lots of alcohol or fizzy drinks

How to ease bloating, cramps and farting

  • eat oats (such as porridge) regularly
  • eat up to 1 tablespoon of linseeds (whole or ground) a day
  • avoid foods that are hard to digest (like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, beans, onions and dried fruit)
  • avoid products containing a sweetener called sorbitol
  • ask a pharmacist about medicines that can help, like Buscopan or peppermint oil

How to reduce diarrhoea

  • cut down on high-fibre foods like wholegrain foods (such as brown bread and brown rice), nuts and seeds
  • avoid products containing a sweetener called sorbitol
  • ask a pharmacist about medicines that can help

If you keep getting diarrhoea, make sure you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

How to relieve constipation

  • drink plenty of water to help make your poo softer
  • increase how much soluble fibre you eat – good foods include oats, pulses, carrots, peeled potatoes and linseeds (whole or ground)
  • ask a pharmacist about medicines that can help (laxatives)

See a GP again if:

  • diet changes and pharmacy medicines are not helping
  • you need to avoid lots of different foods to control your symptoms
  • They may refer you to a dietitian or specialist for advice, and can also suggest other treatments to try.


Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.