An introduction to IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a very common disorder, about two in 10 people in the UK may have episodes of IBS yearly. Symptoms differ from individuals and flare-ups are thought to vary from person to person. IBS is a disorder that can cause debilitating physical symptoms which significantly impacts peoples quality of life.

IBS is associated with painful cramps which are linked with one or more following symptoms.

  • Relief of pain after a bowel movement
  • Change in bowel movement
  • Change in stools appearance

At present, the exact cause of IBS is unknown, but researchers believe that an over sensitive colon or immune system can be at fault or previous bacterial infection within the GI tract.

IBS does not show visible inflammation or abnormal tissue through diagnostic tests which means diagnosing IBS can be a long process for individuals. There is no specific test for IBS. First, your GP will carry out several tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms including:

  • A blood test to check for problems like coeliac disease
  • Tests on a sample of your poo to check for infections and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

If both tests come back negative, the GP will assess your symptoms to determine if you have IBS.

Gut-Brain link

Your gut and brain are connected via the gut-brain axis, with information flowing back and forth continuously.

Researchers have found evidence to suggest that dysfunction along these pathways may contribute to abdominal pain, diarrhoea or constipation, which are symptoms associated with IBS. Many people report that their IBS symptoms can be triggered by emotions such as stress and research has also shown techniques to reduce this stress (i.e. yoga and mediation) can help improve symptoms.

Researchers have also found many links between gut bacteria and IBS such as excessive fermentation or gas which can be a sign of bacterial overgrowth.

IBS is a disorder that is linked with many signs and symptoms in sufferers. These symptoms can vary between individuals therefore, it’s important to understand how to control your own IBS via medication, diet and lifestyle.

If you are concerned about your symptoms, it is important to seek guidance from a healthcare professional.

Is Irritable bowel syndrome the same as Inflammatory bowel disease?

The world of digestive health brings many different disorders which are abbreviated as IBD and IBS. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term that is used to describe any sort of chronic inflammation within the intestines whereas irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is used to group of intestinal symptoms.

Even though both have similar acronyms and present themselves with digestive symptoms (amongst others), they are very much different and should not be confused. IBS may share similar symptoms but should not be confused with IBD.

IBD refers to two disorders which are Crohn's disease (CD) and Ulcerative Colitis (UC). Both these disorders are lifelong conditions that are characterised by recurring bouts of inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms of both can include diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and fever and are diagnosed through an array of tests. Currently, there is no cure available but both disorders are managed through medication and lifestyle changes. 

In contrast, IBS is a functional disorder that causes similar symptoms such as abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits but does not cause inflammation. Current causes are still not fully understood but thought to be associated with previous infections, stress and possible food intolerances. Individuals with IBS do not show signs of disease and have normal test results. It can be diagnosed by ruling out other conditions (including coeliac disease and IBD) and the presence of IBS-like symptoms.

Differences in symptoms in IBS vs IBD

IBS is usually characterised by:

  • Cramps
  • Change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhoea)
  • Cramps or pain

IBD can have similar symptoms but also includes:

  • Joint pain
  • Malnutrition
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue


If you'd like to learn more about IBS, why not book a free 1:1 consultation with our nutrition team? We can recommend diet and lifestyle changes that can make a big difference. To book, simply click here.