• Alex Bovell

What is IBS?

Updated: Feb 10, 2019

Unfortunately, the smile I have on my face isn’t always the case when I’m eating due to IBS and the symptoms associated that I experience. I’ve recently had some questions regarding IBS and thought I’d do my best to clear it up and simplify this often complex issue. I do believe the phrase is thrown around too freely, similarly to gluten or lactose intolerance. It’s an area we need to be more aware of and educated in because the more we hear it, the less consideration we give. The truth is, this condition can be extremely debilitating and interfere with life.

IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and is an extremely common issue affecting around 1 in 5 Australians. It’s likely there are many of you reading this currently experiencing IBS or have experienced it throughout your life. This is a chronic condition that requires long-term management.

Unfortunately, the cause of IBS isn’t known and there’s no structural damage visible to the large intestine. Therefore, before diagnosing yourself with IBS it’s important to visit your doctor and rule out any other possibilities causing structural damage such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

IBS is usually diagnosed using the Rome criteria which require abdominal pain and discomfort for 1 day per week over 3 months. Additionally, 2 out of 3 of the following are required: pain related to passing stools, the frequency of passing stools is altered or stool consistency is altered.

There are 3 types of IBS known:

IBS-C: constipation-predominant

IBSIBS-D: diarrhoea predominant

IBSAlternating constipation & diarrhoea


The symptoms may vary from person to person, depending on their management and awareness. Yet, a combination of the symptoms below is generally what most sufferers explain they experience regularly and characterizes IBS.

crampinggasbloatingabdominal painalternating diarrhoea & constipationfeeling incomplete after passing stoolsmucus in the stools

Various other symptoms often arise due to IBS such as nausea, headaches, loss of appetite, fatigue and heartburn amongst more.


This is the question everyone would like answered and because there’s no structural damage or area to pinpoint, treatment becomes difficult. One suggested cause includes overactivity of parts of the bowel. The food we eat is passed through our bowel via contractions of the muscles in our bowel wall. If these contractions become abnormal or overactive, IBS may occur. For example, if you have weaker contractions this can slow down the movement of food causing constipation.

Although the definite cause remains a mystery, there are common triggers known to exacerbate symptoms including:

STRESS – we have a nerve that connects our brain to our stomach, meaning there’s a direct link from our emotions and thoughts to our digestive system. Think about it, when some people get nervous they may vomit, others may become ravenous whilst some of us lose our appetite. It’s all due to this vagus nerve!

GUT BACTERIA – We all have bacteria present in our intestines, however, whether these are beneficial or harmful bacteria varies between everyone. There’s recent evidence which suggests disturbances in healthy gut bacteria may play a role in IBS. If you’ve frequently been on antibiotics or had an infection such as gastro, it’s likely your gut bacteria may be out of balance and contributing to your symptoms.

FOOD INTOLERANCES – Impaired absorption of the sugar lactose, which is found in dairy and many processed foods, fructose and sorbitol, are some of the most common dietary triggers for IBS. Additionally, many sufferers have commonly experienced worsening of symptoms when they eat or drink wheat, dairy, milk, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage and carbonated drinks,


This is a condition that can often be managed through diet, lifestyle and stress management. The treatment of IBS will focus on managing symptoms so you’re able to live without pain or discomfort.

Simple treatment considerations include:

avoid foods that may trigger your symptoms

If you experience gas or bloating, you may eliminate vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower and see how you feel. Even if you don’t have coeliac disease, you could attempt to remove gluten from your diet if you’re experiencing diarrhoea. Only you willknow what foods exacerbate your symptoms and understand what you’ll have to remove.


FODMAPs is a diet that has been found extremely beneficial in many IBS sufferers. Many people are sensitive to particular carbohydrates including fructose, fructans, lactose and more known as ‘FODMAPs’. The diet involves you following a strict ‘low-FODMAP’ diet and then slowly reintroducing foods back in one at a time. This can be extremely difficult and confusing to start and I suggest seeking professional help from a nutritionist if this is the route you’d like to go down. There’s also a great app I brought myself called FODMAP by Monash University which simplifies this process a lot!

exercise, exercise, exercise

This doesn’t mean going for a 10km run! You can choose whatever suits you and your body, for me that’s yoga and walking, I love them both!! This is such a great, natural tool to relieve stress and stimulate regular contractions of your bowel. Stress management becomes specifically important with IBS because of the brain/gut connection.

Eat at regular times

Skipping meals is terrible in an abundance of ways! However, in regards to IBS, it’s important to train your bowel and regulate bowel function. Therefore, eating around the same time each day is a simple and important tip!


Don’t just go and grab any pretty bottle that looks nice, which is something I’d personally do! There are specific strains such as Lactobacillus plantarum 299v & Lactobacillus rhamnosus (LGG) which have specifically been found to assist in the management of IBS and relieve symptoms. You can go to your local chemist and ask for a probiotic with these strains, they’ll be able to help.

While this can all seem extremely daunting, my advice would be to seek out assistance from a qualified nutritionist. If this is causing you pain and interfering with your everyday life, take the time to help yourself xxx