What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a collective term for symptoms caused by intestinal dysfunction, disorders or intestinal allergies. Patients should have the following symptoms: 


  1. Abdominal pain, bloating or abdominal discomfort which will usually relieved by defecation
  2. Onset associate with a change in frequency of bowel opening; or form (appearance) of stool


Occasionally, people may have the above conditions, but if the symptoms are frequent (up to three times a month or more) or daily life is affected, while cause cannot be found after colonoscopy, you may have IBS.


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Causes and symptoms
Causes and symptoms

Causes of IBS

The causes of IBS are generally related to an individual's lifestyle, such as eating habits, stress, sleeping disorders, emotional factors, etc. Studies have also shown that people who are greatly affected from nervousness, or had been injured or violated in their childhood, are more likely to suffer from IBS.


There are many medical studies showing that there is no single cause of IBS. Speed of intestinal movement, increased pain sensitivity, disorders in brain processing of intestinal information, genetic factors, environmental factors, mental factors, etc., are all related to IBS, and the symptoms vary with person.


Common symptoms

  • Abdominal pain, bloating

  • Diarrhoea, constipation

  • Incomplete defecation

  • The stools are too hard or watery, or there is mucus in stools

Screening and treatment
Screening and treatment


We recommend that patients undergo colonoscopy before starting medication. Endoscopy is recommended before making the diagnosis of IBS. Since abdominal symptoms may also originate from serious diseases of the lower gastrointestinal tract, such as colorectal cancer and chronic inflammation of the intestines (e.g. Crohn's disease), endoscopy can rule out the possibility of these serious diseases. If the test results are normal, patients will have a higher chance of developing IBS.


Type of IBS

According to the 2006 American Gastroenterology Society Rome III criteria, IBS can be divided into 4 types, and it may change over time.

  • Diarrhoea(IBS-D): Most of the time, stool is mushy or even watery, but rarely too hard.
  • Constipation(IBS-C): Most of the time, stool is too hard or too dry, but rarely mushy.
  • Mixed(IBS-M): The stools are sometimes mushy; sometimes they are too hard. These two conditions may occur alternatively.
  • Unclassified(IBS-U): Stools are generally normal, rarely too hard or mushy.

People with IBS may change their type over time. Study showed that 75% of patients changed their type within one year, and 30% of patients changed from diarrhoea to constipation or from constipation to diarrhoea within one year.


Treatment of IBS

The main purpose of treatment for IBS is to alleviate the symptoms and reduce the impact of abdominal discomfort on the patient's daily life, rather than curing the disease. In fact, the drugs currently prescribed are mainly for individual symptoms, such as when patients have abdominal pain and diarrhoea, doctors will prescribe anti-diarrheal drugs and so on. Therefore, patients with IBS may receive different prescriptions from their doctors.


Drugs for the treatment of IBS are mainly aimed at individual symptoms, which can be roughly divided into the following categories:

  • Antispasmodic drugs: Reduce the contraction of the intestine, suitable for patients with abdominal pain or bowel cramps.
  • Antidiarrheal: Slows down intestinal peristalsis and prevents diarrhoea. Suitable for patients who often have diarrhoea or need to go to the toilet frequently which affects their daily life.
  • Laxative: Promotes intestinal peristalsis and makes stool easier to excrete, suitable for patients with constipation.


Patients can take medication as prescribed, or when symptoms show up. These drugs are more effective in preventing symptoms of IBS. However, for the treatment of sudden symptoms, the effect is less significant. If the patient needs to take other drugs for a long time or at the same time, he or she must follow the doctor's instructions and conduct follow-up consultations to monitor the condition.

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