What is IBS? - Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

  • IBS is a common condition that affects the digestive system.
  • It causes symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. These tend to come and go over time, and can last for days, weeks or months at a time.
  • It's usually a lifelong problem. It can be very frustrating to live with and can have a big impact on your everyday life.
  • There's no cure, but diet changes and medicines can often help control the symptoms.
  • The exact cause is unknown – it's been linked to things like food passing through your gut too quickly or too slowly, over sensitive nerves in your gut, stress, and a family history of IBS.

Common IBS symptoms

The main symptoms of IBS are:

  • stomach pain or cramps – usually worse after eating and better after doing a poo
  • bloating – your tummy may feel uncomfortably full and swollen
  • diarrhoea – you may have watery poo and sometimes need to poo suddenly
  • constipation – you may strain when pooing and feel like you can't empty your bowels fully

There may be days when your symptoms are better and days when they're worse (flare-ups). They may be triggered by food or drink.

IBS flare-ups can happen for no obvious reason.

Sometimes they have a trigger like:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • certain foods – such as spicy or fatty food
  • stress and anxiety

Other symptoms of IBS

IBS can also cause:

  • farting (flatulence)
  • passing mucus from your bottom
  • tiredness and a lack of energy
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • backache
  • problems peeing – like needing to pee often, sudden urges to pee, and feeling like you can't fully empty your bladder
  • not always being able to control when you poo (incontinence)

Ask for an urgent appointment if you have:

  • lost a lot of weight for no reason
  • bleeding from your bottom or bloody diarrhoea
  • a hard lump or swelling in your tummy
  • shortness of breath, noticeable heartbeats (palpitations) and pale skin

These could be signs of something more serious.


  • cook homemade meals using fresh ingredients when you can
  • keep a diary of what you eat and any symptoms you get – try to avoid things that trigger your IBS
  • try to find ways to relax
  • get plenty of exercise
  • try probiotics for a month to see if they help
  • reduce high foods


  • do not delay or skip meals
  • do not eat too quickly
  • do not eat lots of fatty, spicy or processed foods
  • do not eat more than 3 portions of fresh fruit a day (a portion is 80g)
  • do not drink more than 3 cups of tea or coffee a day
  • do not drink lots of alcohol, caffeinated or fizzy drinks

How to ease bloating, cramps and passing wind

  • eat oats (such as porridge) regularly
  • eat up to 1 tablespoon of linseeds a day
  • avoid foods that are hard to digest – like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beans, onions and dried fruit
  • avoid products containing a sweetener called sorbitol
  • ask a pharmacist about medicines that can help
  • Fizzy carbonated drinks can tend to cause bloating so cut back on them

How to reduce diarrhoea

  • cut down on high-fibre foods, like wholegrain foods (such as brown bread and brown rice), nuts and seeds
  • avoid products containing a sweetener called sorbitol
  • ask a pharmacist about medicines that can help, like Imodium (loperamide)
  • Alcohol can irritate the gut and may cause diarrhoea. Drink no more than two units per day and have at least two days a week off.  


If you keep getting diarrhoea, make sure you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

How to relieve constipation

  • drink plenty of water to help make your poo softer
  • increase how much soluble fibre you eat – good foods include oats, pulses, carrots, peeled potatoes and linseeds
  • ask a pharmacist about medicines that can help (laxatives), like Fybogel or Celevac

Dietary changes can often help IBS symptoms and sometimes simple changes are all that are needed. 

Remember to monitor your progress by keeping a food and symptom diary.  Don’t forget to give your bowels time to adjust to any changes. If your symptoms persist after following general lifestyle and dietary advice, ask your doctor to refer you.

This article is produced using information from the NHS guidelines and The British Dietetic Association and is intended for information only and is not a substitute for proper medical advice.  If you have any concerns about your health you should speak to your medical practitioner.