What is IBS

Drawing of a digestive tractIrritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common medical condition that affects the digestive tract, especially the large bowel. In the UK, it is thought that up to one in five people suffers from IBS at some point in their lives.

The life-long condition can affect people at any age, and both men and women can be affected. Often, however, more women than men are diagnosed with the disorder.

Doctors describe IBS as being a functional bowel disorder. This means that although the bowel does not function properly, it still appears normal to look at. This does not mean that IBS is not a real medical condition. Experts agree that IBS is a valid clinical problem that results in physical symptoms. These symptoms can be helped by medicines and lifestyle changes.

Importantly, IBS is not a life-threatening condition.  People with IBS are no more likely than others to develop cancer and IBS will not lead to bowel inflammation (colitis) or malnutrition, and it will not require surgery.

See our section on frequently asked questions for more information about IBS.