Abdominal pain, flatulence, change in stool rhythm… Everyone suffers from it from time to time. But in a fairly large number of people, these symptoms appear regularly, which signals an irritable bowel syndrome. This is an unpleasant but benign condition that does not increase the risk of bowel cancer at all.

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

It is also called “functional colopathy”. This pathology is not necessarily related to spasms or cramps.

We speak of irritable bowel syndrome when abdominal pain or unpleasant sensations in the belly are permanent or appear at intervals for six months.

Irritable bowel syndrome does not cause bowel damage. It also never leads to serious disease such as cancer.

Irritable bowel syndrome occurs at any age, but most often occurs in young adults. It is twice as common in women as in men.

What are the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome?

The symptoms are very variable and can be different from one person to another, ranging from mild discomfort to serious disorders that can lead the person to no longer have a social life. Complaints can vary greatly from day to day. In addition, periods without disorders may be followed by periods when symptoms are felt daily.

Abdominal pain

Abdominal pain is the most prominent symptom of irritable bowel syndrome. Often the pain begins during or after eating. Generally, it is a throbbing pain, with, from time to time, violent stitches of short duration. These can be so violent that they are reminiscent of renal colic. The pain is often relieved by defecation or evacuation of a wind.

In many patients, the pain always occurs in the same place, for example in the lower left part of the belly or around the umbilicus. Others feel the pain in a different place each time. The pain may also radiate to the back or laterally.

Problems passing stools

In addition to abdominal pain, patients almost always suffer from problems with bowel movements. In some patients, irritable bowel syndrome is manifested by diarrhea, in others by constipation. It is also common for episodes of diarrhea and constipation to occur alternately. The stools can be watery, soft or very hard. Abnormal pressure, a false urge to defecate or the impression that defecation has not been done completely are common symptoms.

Other symptoms

In addition to abdominal pain and problems with bowel movements, other symptoms may also be present:

  • feeling of bloating in the stomach;
  • flatulence;
  • abdominal distention;
  • presence of mucus in the stool, but absence of blood;
  • sore and tender colon when pressure is exerted on the abdomen.

Sometimes the pain is accompanied by decreased appetite, nausea, digestive upset, repeated belching, heartburn, difficulty swallowing, and fatigue.

What causes irritable bowel syndrome?

The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not known. Nerve impulses are constantly exchanged between the intestine and the brain. The level of exchange flow and the speed at which the brain processes the signals it receives determine the course of intestinal function and the possible presence of symptoms. It is likely that the irritable bowel syndrome is due both to a disturbance of peristalsis and to an excessive sensitivity of the intestinal wall; there are influencing factors, including stress and diet. But we don't yet have a definitive explanation for the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Sometimes it seems that the condition occurs or worsens after a severe intestinal infection (eg due to Salmonella) or during a period of stress, tension and emotions, elements that have an undeniable influence on peristalsis.

It is likely that changes in dietary habits also play a role. With the improvement of well-being, it is true that we consume more and more often prepared meals and snacks, and less foods rich in fiber.

What can you do yourself?

  • Reduce anxiety and stress

If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, it is particularly important that you educate yourself about this condition so that you do not worry unnecessarily. Anxiety can indeed promote the maintenance of symptoms, which creates a vicious circle, the disorders leading to anxiety, which causes a worsening of the disorders, which reinforces the anxiety, etc.

Therefore, it is also important to avoid stress. Try to eliminate stressors or manage them better. Restful sleep can help you live the day in a more relaxed way.

  • Physical exercise

Physical exercise is excellent for reducing stress. Executing intensive movements in a moderate way every day for half an hour already has a positive effect on the physical condition and on the psychic well-being, which makes it possible to better withstand stress or pain. In addition, it also stimulates the proper functioning of the intestines.

Also keep doing what you are used to doing. You should not reduce your activities, except on doctor's orders.

  • A healthy diet

Along with exercise, regular eating habits, healthy eating, and getting enough fluids can relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Concretely, this means, among other things, eating 300 g of vegetables (six to twelve tablespoons), two to three servings of fruit and at least one and a half liters of water every day. Be moderate in your consumption of caffeine, fats, sugar and alcohol. And try to avoid overeating.

If you think essential food products are contributing to your irritable bowel syndrome, do not eliminate them from your menu without thinking about it because you risk not having a healthy and balanced diet. It is better to start some time by keeping a diary of your diet and, if necessary, by adapting your meals in a reasonable way.

A healthy lifestyle can be of some help, but unfortunately it is not the miracle cure for irritable bowel syndrome.

Probiotics and other alternatives

Probiotics, peppermint essential oils, Chinese herbs, flaxseed, and aloe vera are sometimes recommended for irritable bowel syndrome.

However, be careful if you use these products or other alternatives. Always discuss this with your doctor first. Their effects have not always been demonstrated and they can sometimes even make the pain worse.

When to consult a doctor ?

If you have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, we recommend that you have this diagnosis clarified by your doctor. There is no rush to take this step, unless you have one or more of the following signs:

  • loss of three kilos or more over a month without following a diet and without further explanation;
  • presence of blood in the stool;
  • first appearance of the disorders at an advanced age;
  • fever or lower abdominal pain;
  • suspicion of a link between abdominal pain and menstruation or the intake of drugs, food, products taken for recreational purposes, milk, sweeteners, diet products or alcohol;
  • appearance of abdominal pain after a stay in a tropical country or a subtropical region or in the Mediterranean basin;
  • diarrhea or constipation lasting more than two weeks;
  • symptoms are severe and limit daily activities;
  • known disorders and symptoms suddenly change in nature;
  • the symptoms cause you great concern.


Your doctor can give you advice on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle and thus reduce the symptoms of the syndrome.

If the symptoms do not improve and continue to interfere with your daily life, he may prescribe medication, but this will not necessarily be effective.

In some people, probiotics, peppermint essential oils, or certain Chinese herbs seem to reduce symptoms. However, discuss it with your doctor before taking it yourself.

Your doctor may also advise you to consult a dietitian, a psychologist or your occupational physician. The dietician will define with you the diet that suits you best. The psychologist will help you cope with the symptoms.