11.DEC.2018 2 MIN READ | 2 MIN READ

Dr Quah Hak Mien, general surgeon at Gleneagles Hospital, shares insights about irritable bowel syndrome, its possible causes and how to live with the condition.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common functional disorder of the digestive tract, affecting 10 – 15% of the Singapore population. Although it is not clear why, it is believed that IBS may develop after an episode of upset stomach or food poisoning. Some doctors believe that the bowel infection or subsequent use of antibiotics may have disrupted the balance of the intestinal bacteria ecosystem. IBS tends to start in the teenage years or in early adulthood, and affects women more than men. Constipation also tends to be more prominent in women who suffer from IBS.

How can IBS be diagnosed and treated?

IBS does not have a specific diagnostic laboratory test or scan, and diagnosis is, therefore, made from the symptoms that are present.

As the symptoms of IBS are similar to colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease (eg. Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis), it is recommended that patients undergo a colonoscopy for a more accurate diagnosis.

The goal of medical treatment is to relieve symptoms and to educate patients so that they can better understand their condition and participate effectively in managing it.

What are typical symptoms of IBS?

The symptoms of IBS may appear trivial to those who don’t suffer from IBS, but to those that do, they can be very disruptive. IBS sufferers are frequently bothered by tummy cramps or embarrassed by excessive gas and stress-induced diarrhoea runs.

Does eating the right food help manage the condition?

Questions about IBS - Foods to avoid
A balanced diet is important. However, each IBS sufferer has to work out what triggers their individual symptoms over time to know what foods to avoid. IBS affects one person differently from another, but, in general, if you have IBS, you should try to avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine (eg. coffee, tea) because this stimulates the bowel. Include sufficient vegetables and fruits in your diet but be mindful of excessive fibre which may cause bloating, gas and flatulence. Regular exercise and sufficient sleep may help relieve IBS symptoms.

Can IBS lead to more serious diseases?

Fortunately, however bothersome and disabling IBS can be, it does not lead to other serious diseases such as cancer. Symptoms of IBS can often be relieved through treatment.

How can IBS be managed?

If you are experiencing symptoms similar to IBS or have noticed a change in your bowel habits, do consult a doctor for treatment. IBS affects more than the life of the person who has the condition. The disruptive nature of IBS symptoms can have an impact on friends and family members as well. You don’t have to put up with IBS. There’s help out there. Make an appointment with a specialist today.


Article reviewed by Dr Quah Hak Mien, general surgeon at Gleneagles Hospital


Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Review and Update. Retrieved on 13 November 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3348735/

Coping with irritable bowel syndrome. Retrieved on 21 November 2018 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319546.php

Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Retrieved on 21 November 2018 from https://www.singhealth.com.sg/PatientCare/ConditionsAndTreatments/Pages/Irritable-Bowel-Syndrome.aspx

Quah Hak Mien
General Surgeon
Gleneagles Hospital

Dr Quah Hak Mien is a general surgeon practising in Gleneagles Hospital and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, Singapore. His clinical interests include the prevention, endoscopic diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer. His expertise also includes the treatment of anal diseases, piles and functional bowel disorders, such as chronic bowel disorder, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).