If you’re experiencing bloating, constipation, diarrhoea or stomach pain, it could be caused by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which you can develop at any age.

Although it’s more common in younger people, it’s certainly not something that occurs in young people alone. Here’s what you need to know about IBS, its symptoms and how to manage them.

When do people usually develop IBS?

Let’s start with the basics, what is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal condition characterised by changes in bowel habits and abdominal pain. There are three types of IBS, named according to the most common bowel habit. These include diarrhoea (IBS-D), constipation (IBS-C) or mixed (IBS-M).

IBS is estimated to affect approximately 11% of people globally and its estimated to be twice as common in women than in men. In terms of age of onset, the evidence varies between studies. However, a recent study identified that IBS is less common in those over 50 years of age compared to those under 50. In fact, it appears the risk of developing IBS may decrease above the age of 40. However, you can still develop IBS later in life. There is currently no known cause or cure, but there are science-backed ways for taking control of your symptoms.

What are the three symptoms of IBS?

The symptoms of IBS can vary between individuals and their IBS subtype. However, the most common symptoms include:

  1. Abdominal pain or discomfort
  2. Altered bowel habits such as diarrhoea or constipation
  3. Bloating and a sense of incomplete evacuation

These symptoms may come and go and can be worsened by factors such as stress, caffeine, alcohol, medications and even fatty foods.

It is important to keep in mind that these symptoms are not unique to IBS. If you have any of these symptoms that persist longer two weeks, you should visit your GP. This is particularly important if you think you have developed IBS later in life as it’s important to rule out other health concerns.

How can you manage these symptoms?

IBS can greatly impact your quality of life, so the successful management of its symptoms is essential. Whilst there is no cure for IBS, it can be well managed with appropriate diet and lifestyle changes.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to IBS, however, research shows that a low FODMAP diet can help to relieve the symptoms of IBS. In fact, it has been shown to be effective in the majority of people with IBS. Not only can the low FODMAP diet improve your symptoms, but it can also improve your quality of life!

However, the low FODMAP diet is not designed to be followed long-term. Instead, it generally consists of an elimination phase of 2-6 weeks followed by challenges to determine your tolerance of each of the FODMAPs. This is followed by the reintroduction of FODMAPs in amounts which you can tolerate. If you’re wanting to know more about the low FODMAP diet, you can find out more here.

However, it is essential not to make any drastic changes without consulting a health professional. Make sure to speak to your doctor or an Accredited Practising Dietitian if you think you’re dealing with these symptoms.

By The FODMAP Challenge Dietitians

© Prevention Australia