Irritable bowel

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common long-term disorder in which your bowels don’t work properly. It can cause symptoms such as abdominal cramps, bloating and either constipation or diarrhoea. IBS is very common and affects around one in six women and around one in nine men. We don’t know exactly what causes IBS, but it seems to be related to an overactivity of the bowel, making it more sensitive than usual.

Do I have IBS?

The most common symptoms of IBS are:

  • – pain or discomfort in your stomach
  • – bloating or swelling in your stomach
  • – diarrhoea or constipation, or sometimes both
  • – passing mucus with your poo
  • – too much wind (flatulence or farting).

The symptoms are often triggered when you are feeling stressed or have eaten certain foods and can last for a few days or up to a few months. Some people have only mild symptoms and don’t need treatment. People can have IBS through their lives, and having it doesn’t increase your chance of getting other bowel diseases, such as bowel cancer.

How do I get tested for IBS?

There are no tests for IBS, it can usually be diagnosed by your doctor. However, if you have new bowel symptoms and any of the warning signs listed below, please see your doctor for an examination:

  • – have a family history of colon cancer
  • – pass blood with your bowel motions
  • – are losing weight without trying
  • – have a low level of iron in your blood
  • – are over 50 and have developed bowel symptoms for the first time.

To see a doctor for treatment:



Most people can manage their symptoms well by changing what and how they eat and making lifestyle changes, see here for lifestyle advice. There are other medical treatments available on prescription such as Mebeverine (Colofac). This helps to relax the muscles in your digestive system, which can help to reduce stomach pain and cramping.

How to take Colofac?

The usual dose is one tablet (135mg) three times daily. Most people find it is best to take the doses about 20 minutes before the three main meals of the day. Swallow the tablets with a small glassful of water. Do not chew the tablets, as they have an unpleasant taste.  Start taking it when your symptoms flare up, and continue to take it until you feel better. Stop taking it when your symptoms settle down again (this is usually within a week or two).

What else is important to know?

  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • See a doctor for an examination if you have taken Colofac for two weeks without improvement
  • See a doctor if you develop a rash or swelling with this medication