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Generally experienced by people across all ages, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a painful and distressing condition that can be managed with expert medical advice and lifestyle changes.

What is IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder affecting the large intestine. Is it a complex condition that is partly understood, and the severity can vary from mild and bothersome to extremely severe. There are no tests that can confirm the diagnosis of IBS and all diagnostic tests will be negative in an individual with IBS. As such the diagnosis is usually based on typical symptoms combined with other appropriate conditions.

Symptoms of IBS

According to Dr Robert Nel, a specialist gastroenterologist based in Hillcrest, Durban,  common symptoms include Abdominal pain, Cramping that varies in intensity and may be associated with changes in stool consistency, eating, emotional stress and even the menstrual cycle. Pain that is usually relieved when passing stools. Changes in bowel habits – may include diarrhoea, constipation or alternating diarrhoea and constipation. Bloating and excessive gas.

What causes it?

“The causes of IBS are still unclear” says Dr Nel, “but could be due to multiple factors affecting the large intestine. IBS is thought to be caused by disturbance in the muscle contractions that move digested food and waste through the digestive system, an overly sensitive gut or even disturbances in the bacteria populating the large intestine. It is possible that the disease may be triggered by a gut infection, emotional stress or food sensitivity.

Irritable bowel syndrome


What is triggering your IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can vary from mild to severe. Here are the triggers to avoid, and the ways to manage and treat the condition.

The three main triggers for IBS flare-ups

1. Diet: Certain foods and drinks can worsen IBS symptoms – including breads and cereals made with refined grains, processed foods, dairy products, beans, cabbage, citrus fruits, coffee, fizzy drinks and alcohol. “Lactose intolerance can mimic the symptoms of IBS, but in this condition, avoidance of dairy products will cause a resolution of symptoms,” says Dr Robert Nel, a specialist gastroenterologist in Hillcrest, Durban. 

2. Stress: Stress – from lack of money, job insecurity, relationship problems – is an underlying cause of many health conditions, and continuous increased stress can aggravate IBS. 

3. Medication: Certain medications can trigger IBS.

Can IBS be prevented? 

“Unfortunately, most of the factors thought to cause IBS are out of the control of an individual. As a result, there are a few measures which can be taken to prevent IBS. Because IBS could be as a result of a disturbance in the bacteria populating the colon, avoidance of unnecessary antibiotic use is advised,” cautions Dr Nel. 

How to manage and treat IBS

According to Dr Nel, there’s no one diet, medicine or solution that will work for everyone suffering from IBS. The solution varies from individual to individual, bearing in mind this is a chronic condition that may require ongoing management. Treatment includes dietary management, medications and control of anxiety and stress. 

Dietary management

• Keeping a diary of what you eat and the symptoms you get. This way you can eliminate foods and drinks that trigger IBS. Gluten and lactose can be removed from the diet to see how you respond.
• Opt to make meals from scratch using fresh ingredients.
• Reduce intake of caffeine, processed foods, alcohol and fat.


These should be prescribed by a medical professional, and include a variety which reduce the sensitivity of the intestine, bloating and cramping, and which control anxiety and changes in bowel habits.

Control anxiety and stress

If you suffer from anxiety, this may need to be controlled with counselling and/or medication. Take measures to reduce your stress and get ample exercise.

See a doctor if…

You have a persistent change in bowel habits or have symptoms more than three times a month for more than three months, or any of the following:

• Rectal bleeding
• Anaemia
• Weight loss
• Severe pain




(Original article appeared in the Clicks club card Issue 6/2022 written by Kendra Hunt. Click here to read the issue.  As well as on the clicks website which can be read here)
Photo credit: <a href=’’>Hygiene photo created by –</a>

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