Dr Quah Hak Mien
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common functional disorder of the digestive tract, affecting 10 – 15% of the Singapore population. Although it is not clear why, it is believed that IBS may develop after an episode of upset stomach or food poisoning. Some doctors believe that the bowel infection or subsequent use of antibiotics may have disrupted the balance of the intestinal bacteria ecosystem. IBS tends to start in the teenage years or in early adulthood, and affects women more than men. Constipation also tends to be more prominent in women who suffer from IBS.
IBS does not have a specific diagnostic laboratory test or scan, and diagnosis is, therefore, made from the symptoms that are present.
As the symptoms of IBS are similar to colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease (eg. Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis), it is recommended that patients undergo a colonoscopy for a more accurate diagnosis.
The goal of medical treatment is to relieve symptoms and to educate patients so that they can better understand their condition and participate effectively in managing it.
The symptoms of IBS may appear trivial to those who don't suffer from IBS, but to those that do, they can be very disruptive. IBS sufferers are frequently bothered by tummy cramps or embarrassed by excessive gas and stress-induced diarrhoea runs.
A balanced diet is important. However, each IBS sufferer has to work out what triggers their individual symptoms over time to know what foods to avoid. IBS affects one person differently from another, but, in general, if you have IBS, you should try to avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine (eg. coffee, tea) because this stimulates the bowel. Include sufficient vegetables and fruits in your diet but be mindful of excessive fibre which may cause bloating, gas and flatulence. Regular exercise and sufficient sleep may help relieve IBS symptoms.
Fortunately, however bothersome and disabling IBS can be, it does not lead to other serious diseases such as cancer. Symptoms of IBS can often be relieved through treatment.
If you are experiencing symptoms similar to IBS or have noticed a change in your bowel habits, do consult a doctor for treatment. IBS affects more than the life of the person who has the condition. The disruptive nature of IBS symptoms can have an impact on friends and family members as well. You don't have to put up with IBS. There's help out there. Make an appointment with a specialist today.