Most people don’t bother to go to their doctor about IBS, as their symptoms are so mild that they can go about their days without being overly aware of them. But IBS varies greatly from person to person, and sometime the symptoms can be a lot more severe, and begin to become troublesome to the sufferer. Abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and bloating can be especially bad. One symptom will usually make more of itself in an IBS sufferer, causing them to experience either pain, constipation or chronic diarrhoea more prominently.
The most common IBS symptom is abdominal pain – this is often described as being colicky or achy. The pain can be a mild one causing prolonged discomfort, or a severe one that is difficult to ignore. Pain can be relieved by opening the bowels, eating or passing wind, but it can also be made worse by these. It will sometimes occur at a particular time of day, often the evening, and women tend to find the pain ties in with their menstrual cycle (which can bring its own abdominal discomfort). Women are also more likely to suffer from constipation than diarrhoea – also, women are more likely in general to suffer from IBS in the first instance.
IBS sufferers often feel they need to urgently move their bowels, especially when they’ve just had breakfast. Stools often vary in consistency from hard and pellet-like to loose and watery, and sometimes only consists of small amounts of mucus. Subsequently there can be the frustrating feeling of the bowels being incompletely emptied, although a sufferer cannot do anything about this.
Other symptoms may be a bloated abdomen, nausea, excess wind, indigestion and even vomiting, although this is much less common in IBS sufferers. A sense of over-fullness is sometimes experienced. If diarrhoea is the main symptom, food is passed through the digestive system faster than is normal and healthy. IBS can be accompanied by other problems, including back pain or groin pain, depression, lethargy and tiredness, disturbed sleep patterns, headaches and an urge to urinate more often. This last can be extremely urgent and cause pain – again, this symptom is more commonly found in women, who can also experience painful periods and pain during intercourse. Some IBS patients also report experiencing sexual dysfunction. Such symptoms may be due to an overlap with another condition such as chronic fatigue syndrome or interstitial cystitis.
Attacks of symptoms may occur at any time, sometimes even waking sufferers from sleep. If the symptoms only occur briefly they may just be the kind of occasional bowel disturbance from which everyone suffers; if however the symptoms occur continuously then it is more likely to be IBS. Symptoms can sometimes be made worse by diet, hormones or stress. Whatever the combination and severity of the symptoms, IBS can compromise quality of life by upsetting emotional equilibrium and disrupting activities.
Copyright 2006 David McEvoy