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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder that affects the intestines. It is a very common disorder, affecting around 1 in 10 Singaporeans and continues to be on the rise.

Common symptoms of IBS include: abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, faecal urgency, constipation, flatulence (gassiness), and/or a sensation of incomplete bowel clearance.

Although not serious or life-threatening, it can be highly disruptive to people suffering from IBS, as flare-ups can be unpredictable, uncomfortable and inconvenient.

What causes IBS?

There is still no conclusive evidence on what precisely causes IBS to develop. However, theories suggest that some people are at a higher risk of developing IBS due to:

  • bowel motility issues (intestines that move faster or slower than normal, or goes into spasms)
  • high stress levels (a common trigger factor for IBS)
  • infection or inflammation within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
  • nerve sensitivity in the intestines, resulting in excessive contraction of the intestinal muscles (cramping)

How is IBS diagnosed?

Unlike some other disorders, IBS does not have a standardised test, and is generally based on the patient’s symptoms and medical history.

When should I see a doctor for suspected IBS?

If you have been experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms of IBS for an extended period of time, and it is greatly affecting your quality of life, you should definitely seek medical attention to receive a proper diagnosis and personalised treatment plan.

However, if your symptoms are accompanied by any of the following, please see a doctor promptly as it may then be indicative of something potentially more serious than IBS (and should be checked for and ruled out as soon as possible). Do remember, IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion and serious pathology like colorectal cancer needs to be ruled out.

Symptoms that require early attention include:

  • persistent symptoms despite initial treatment (>3-4 weeks)
  • you have a family history of colorectal cancer
  • you have unexplained weight loss (>10-15% of body weight)
  • you are experiencing recurrent rectal bleeding
  • you have been found to be anaemic (low number of red blood cells)
  • you have altered bowel habits

Does IBS increase the risk of other complications?

IBS does not increase the risk of developing cancer and it also does not increase the risk of bowel perforation.

How can IBS be treated?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for IBS. However, it can be effectively managed with proper diet control (identifying food triggers and avoiding them), lifestyle modifications and medications. Medications may be required initially for symptom control to reduce bloatedness, pain or irregular stools. These are usually temporary.

What if I leave IBS untreated?

If you leave IBS untreated, you will technically be fine as there are no negative long-term health effects.

However, the psychological toll of dealing with frequent abdominal pain, constipation, gassiness and constantly running to the toilet (diarrhoea) can be significant, and affect work and quality of life tremendously.

With IBS being a treatable condition, we will work you to better manage your flare-ups, alleviate your symptoms, and to improve your quality of life.

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