Updated 11 August 2017

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder characterised by stomach cramps, abdominal pain and intermittent diarrhoea.


IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome), also known as spastic colon, is one of more than 20 functional gastrointestinal disorders and is characterised by stomach cramps, abdominal pain and intermittent diarrhoea. The term “functional” implies that the patient has symptoms related to the bowel, yet all the appropriate tests are normal. 

Abdominal pain is one of the functional diseases, but the pain differs from IBS.

The symptoms of IBS are recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort directly associated with a change in the stool pattern (diarrhoea or constipation), and the pain or discomfort is relieved by passing stools. Most patients are also bloated.

Typically, patients with this problem would get up in the morning, feeling fine, but as the day progresses, the bloating and pain or discomfort will start and intensify.

Because many sufferers do not report their symptoms to doctors, it's difficult to say how many people are living with IBS.

In most countries, the prevalence is between 10 and 15% of the population. In South Africa, the prevalence of IBS is estimated to be below 8% of the population, according to a study, 

The Epidemiology of Irritable Bowel Syndrome was conducted by the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. 

Read more:

Diagnosing IBS

Causes of IBS 

Treating IBS

Reviewed by Dr Ismail Moola MBCHB (UCT) FCP (SA) Cert Gastro Phys (SA) Specialist Physician / Gastroenterologist Netcare Sunninghill Hospital and part time Lecturer Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Wits University February 2015.

Previously reviewed by Dr E. Wilken (MBChB) Mmed (Int), gastroenterologist, May 2011


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