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What is IBS?

Whilst not life-threatening, IBS is a well-recognised medical condition in which the intestinal tract does not work in an orderly fashion, leading to symptoms that may range from annoying to severe. These symptoms often result in personal and financial costs to the individual and the community as a whole. IBS often begins in adolescence or young adulthood but may come on at any age.

IBS is a chronic condition which flares up from time to time. Sometimes, symptoms may be related to foods, but may also be related to specific stressful events or even to routine everyday stress. For example, travel can affect IBS because it disrupts normal eating and sleeping habits. IBS can have a significant impact on the life of a sufferer, with normal functioning disrupted by symptoms, travel, work habits, or socialising may be limited due to pain, or even the need to remain close to a bathroom. Sometimes there is no apparent reason for an increase in symptoms.

IBS has been known by many different names, including mucous colitis, spastic colon, and spastic bowel disease, however, these terms are misleading, and IBS should not be confused with other digestive disorders. IBS is called a functional disorder because there is no evidence of damage due to inflammation, narrowings or cancer when the colon is examined with a colonoscope. Abnormalities can however be demonstrated in the way that the bowel works, for example in the rate at which the contents of the bowel move, or the way the body senses the contents of the bowel. IBS can cause great discomfort and distress, but does not cause permanent damage to the intestine, and does not lead to diseases such as bowel cancer or Crohn’s disease. IBS can however be associated with just as much suffering and loss of quality of life as those disorders.

Just as there are often many contributing factors to the symptoms, there are many potential ways in which symptoms can be minimised, including diet, stress management, over the counter medications and sometimes medications prescribed by their physicians. There is no cure for IBS, but most sufferers can be helped to control or minimise their symptoms, usually by modifying one or more aspects of their lifestyle.

How many people are affected?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders of the digestive tract; approximately one in ten Australians suffer from IBS. Women are affected more often than men, for reasons that are not fully understood.

When does IBS start?

IBS can start at any age, although it is most likely to start in the teenage years of life or early adulthood.

Types of IBS

IBS can be further broken down into three primary types:

  • Diarrhoea predominant
  • Constipation predominant
  • Mixed (or alternating)


If you are interested in other gastrointestinal-focused information and intervention websites developed and hosted at
Swinburne University of Technology,
please go to:

IBDclinic.org.au for individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Gastroparesisclinic.org for individuals with Gastroparesis


This website and its content is not intended or recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions.

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