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IBS: A multifactorial condition


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects approximately 10-15% of the global population, making it one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders worldwide. Symptoms of IBS can include bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhoea.


While the exact cause of IBS is not fully understood, several factors may contribute to its development.


1. Abnormalities in Gut Motility: The muscles in the walls of the intestine are responsible for moving food and waste material through the digestive system. In people with IBS, these muscles may contract too strongly or too weakly, leading to abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits.


2. Abnormalities in Nerve Function: The nerves that control the digestive system may become hypersensitive or overactive in people with IBS, leading to abdominal pain and discomfort.


3. Gut-Brain Axis: The gut and brain are connected through a complex network of nerves, hormones, and other signaling molecules. Research has shown that changes in the gut microbiota, stress, and other psychological factors can affect gut function and contribute to the development of IBS.


4. Inflammation: While IBS is not an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, some studies have suggested that low-grade inflammation may play a role in the development of IBS symptoms.


5. Food Sensitivities: Certain foods can trigger IBS symptoms in some people. Common trigger foods include dairy products, gluten, and high-fat foods.


6. Genetics: There may be a genetic component to IBS, as some studies have suggested that people with a family history of the condition may be more likely to develop it.


It's important to note that IBS is a complex condition, and many people may have a combination of these factors contributing to their symptoms.


Another condition that is often linked to IBS is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). In this blog post, we will discuss the relationship between SIBO and IBS and the available treatment options.



What is SIBO? Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition where there is an abnormal growth of bacteria in the small intestine. Normally, the small intestine has fewer bacteria than the large intestine, which is populated with a large number of gut bacteria. However, in SIBO, the small intestine becomes overpopulated with bacteria, leading to a variety of symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. The most common bacteria found in SIBO are normally found in the colon, such as Escherichia coli (E.coli) and Bacteroides fragilis. When these bacteria migrate to the small intestine, they can cause inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining. The Connection Between SIBO and IBS Recent studies have shown that there is a strong link between SIBO and IBS. In fact, SIBO has been found in up to 84% of IBS patients, suggesting that the two conditions may share similar underlying mechanisms. One theory is that SIBO may contribute to the development of IBS by causing an inflammatory response in the small intestine, which can lead to intestinal permeability and the release of toxins into the bloodstream. This, in turn, can trigger an immune response and activate the nervous system, leading to the symptoms of IBS. Another theory is that IBS may cause SIBO by altering the motility of the small intestine, leading to the overgrowth of bacteria. This can be due to factors such as stress, dietary changes, and other lifestyle factors that can affect gut motility.

The Connection Between Stress and IBS

While the exact cause of IBS is not fully understood, research suggests that stress may play a significant role in the development and exacerbation of IBS symptoms.

Stress is a natural response to a perceived threat or challenge. It is the body's way of responding to a situation that is potentially dangerous or stressful. When we experience stress, the body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which help prepare us to deal with the situation. This response is commonly known as the "fight or flight" response. The Connection Between Stress and IBS Research has shown that stress can have a significant impact on the symptoms of IBS. In fact, up to 60% of people with IBS report that stress makes their symptoms worse. Stress can cause changes in the digestive system, such as increased sensitivity and motility, which can lead to symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea. Stress can also lead to changes in gut microbiota, the complex community of microorganisms that live in the gut. These changes can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, which can further exacerbate IBS symptoms.

While it may not be possible to eliminate all sources of stress from our lives, there are many strategies that we can use to manage stress and reduce its impact on IBS symptoms.

  1. Exercise: Regular exercise can help reduce stress and improve overall health. Exercise can also help improve digestion and reduce IBS symptoms.

  2. Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. This practice has been shown to reduce stress and improve IBS symptoms.

  3. Relaxation Techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization can help reduce stress and improve IBS symptoms.


Managing stress can be an important aspect of managing both SIBO and IBS symptoms. By understanding the connection between stress and IBS, we can better manage these conditions and improve the quality of life for those affected. It is important to work with a healthcare professional to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses both the physical and emotional aspects of SIBO and IBS.


In conclusion, stress is a significant trigger for IBS symptoms, and managing stress through various techniques such as exercise, mindfulness meditation and relaxation techniques can help reduce the impact of stress on IBS symptoms. By understanding the link between SIBO and IBS, we can take steps to manage these conditions and improve the quality of life for those affected.




Karah is a qualified Naturopath who specialises in digestive conditions.


To book and appointment with Karah click HERE

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