Women, with long brown hair in white and blue pyjamas, holding her stomach on the edge of a bed

IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine. It’s common, with around 20% of people in the UK suffering with the illness. While there’s currently no cure for IBS, there are ways in which you can manage the symptoms through medication, diet or a combination of the two. Let’s find out more…

How can I tell if I’ve got IBS?

The main symptom of IBS is bowel trouble, as sufferers will experience diarrhoea, constipation or a combination of both. People may feel a sudden, urgent need to open their bowels several times a day or struggle to produce a bowel movement at all. Many with IBS also feel as though they’ve not fully gotten rid of all their waste after visiting the loo, which can feel uncomfortable.

The other main symptom of IBS is stomach pain, which can range from an uncomfortable cramping sensation to a trapped-wind, colicky pain. If you’re also experiencing bloating, excessive wind, heartburn or nausea, there’s a good chance you could have IBS.

However, as the symptoms of IBS cross over with illnesses including coeliac disease, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and even bowel cancer, you should always visit your doctor before trying to treat yourself. Diagnosing IBS can be tricky, but once other conditions have been ruled out, you’ll be free to experiment with different ways of managing your IBS.

Lady having her stomch felt by a doctor

Can IBS be cured?

Currently there isn’t a cure for IBS, but the condition can be managed well with a combination of medication, diet and exercise. Most people with IBS will live life just as fully as those without, provided they make the right adjustments to their lifestyles, such as ensuring they maintain good gut health. This can be achieved by taking supplements such as Alflorex or Promovita.

Stress can be a huge trigger for many people with IBS, so many find that yoga and meditation help manage the mental triggers of IBS.

What should I eat?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to eating with IBS but adjusting your diet can reduce or even eliminate IBS symptoms. The low FODMAP diet is one that GPs and dieticians often recommend, as it excludes certain types of carbohydrates that are known to produce excess gas and trigger IBS sufferers. It can be tricky to adjust to, as common foods such as onions, garlic, apples, milk, wheat, barley and mushrooms aren’t allowed, but it can help improve symptoms such as bowel urgency and excessive wind greatly. After a few weeks following the diet, or even just cutting out triggering food types like dairy, wheat or fruit, you can introduce foods back into your life and see how you feel. This will help you to identify foods that trigger your IBS, so you’ll be able to avoid them in the future.

Steamed salmon and salad on a white plate on a wooden table

Can I get treatments over the counter?

Medication is available to treat some of the symptoms like stomach pain and heartburn. It can also help to reduce the urgency of your bowel movements or help you to pass waste if you suffer with constipation. Fort fast acting relief, you can try Buscopan, which gets to work in just 15 minutes. It can be bought without a prescription and will calm the spasms in your lower intestine that cause the uncomfortable cramping pain. For other symptoms, including uncomfortable wind, check out our wide range of IBS medication and supplements.

If you’d like to know more about medication that can help you manage your IBS, visit your local pharmacist for some advice. They’ll be able to offer expert recommendations on what to take based on your exact symptoms, and you won’t need to wait to see your GP.