Recent studies show that IBS is the second most common reason people give for staying home from work. Apart from showing how widespread the condition is, this also points to how tricky it can be to diagnose definitively: it becomes a kind of catch-all for gastrointestinal complaints.
The truth is, nobody really knows what causes IBS, although experts have postulated that it could be a miscommunication between the brain and the gastrointestinal system that results in abnormal muscle contractions, which in turn cause significant abdominal discomfort or pain.
Sufferers experience a persistent cramping pain that comes and goes, some cramps more painful than others. Quite often, the pain is affected by going to the loo, but not always in the same way: some people report relief afterwards, while others feel much worse.
IBS is not easy to pin down: it causes constipation in some, in others, diarrhoea, and sometimes a bit of both. And occasionally – but not always – it involves a bit of mucus too. It’s also often associated with other conditions, such as fibromyalgia, atypical chest pain, psychiatric disorders and even gastro-oesophageal reflux.
On top of all that, some medications (anti-anxiety pills, high blood pressure or cholesterol tablets, some diabetic and even thyroid drugs, for example) can produce similar symptoms, which further clouds the issue. So it’s extremely important that you tell your doctor