April is IBS Awareness Month


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition of the digestive system.  Symptoms present are:  abdominal pain, stomach cramps, bloating, excessive wind, change in stool consistency or frequency (diarrhoea and/or constipation).

For an IBS diagnosis IBS:
You should have recurrent abdominal pain on average at least 1 day a week in the last 3 months; along with two or more of the following:

  • Related to going to the toilet
  • Associated with a change in a frequency of stool
  • A change in form (consistency) of stool

Symptom type and severity may vary between individuals but the condition is often lifelong. Symptoms may also become more prevalent during times of stress or after eating certain foods.

IBS South Africa

There is very little data to tell us how many people suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome in South Africa. IBS is, however, a very common condition worldwide, affecting 1 in 5 people. It is thought to be a disease of urbanization and industrialization. Around twice as many women are affected as men. Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects all ages, even children and the elderly but is less common in those over 50 years of age.

Digestive problems and sensitive tummies

The exact cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome  is unknown, but most experts think that one cause is digestive problems related to gut motility. Increased gut motility causes food to pass too quick through the digestive system and there is not enough time to absorb the water from your food and the end result is diarrhoea.

irritable bowel syndrome

If food moves too slowly, then too much water is absorbed and this can lead to constipation. These changes in motility may be due to disruptions in the signals travelling back and forward between the gut and the brain. Studies have also shown that people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome also have oversensitive guts and feel pain more acutely than those without Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Bile acid malabsorption (where bile produced by the liver builds up in the digestive system) may be responsible for some cases of IBS, where diarrhoea is the predominant symptom. Certain foods may also exacerbate IBS symptoms of bloating, wind, abdominal distension and diarrhoea.


A new diet called the Low FODMAP diet has been shown to help Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferers. Researchers have found that certain foods contain a group of fermentable carbohydrates.  These cause symptoms such as bloating, wind, abdominal pain, diarrhoea in Irritable Bowel Syndrome patients. The term FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides And Polyols. Examples of culprit foods includes onion, garlic, beans, pulses, honey and plums.

Bloating diet

The low FODMAP diet can be particularly helpful at beating the bloat! Bacteria in the large bowel readily ferment High FODMAP foods contributing to the production of gas.  However, there are other things that may be link with bloating – swallowing too much air when eating, chewing gum, drinking fizzy drinks or eating too fast. Constipation can also lead to bloating.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome dietitian/dietician

Everyone is individual and so there’s no single dietary strategy for IBS. Before trialling the Low FODMAP diet it is important to get your diet and eating habits properly assessed by an Irritable Bowel Syndrome dietitian. They can advise on key initial changes needed to your diet before embarking on a lengthy elimination diet, such at the Low FODMAP Diet. The low FODMAP Diet is not suitable for everyone and there are nutritional and gut health risks by following the diet for long periods of time (especially if not done under the supervision of a FODMAP dietitian). Get in touch with us if you’re looking for assistance.