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Definition

Irritable bowel syndrome is defined as a chronic functional bowel disorder in which abdominal pain is associated with alterations in stool frequency or consistency, and a feeling of abdominal distension. In many, the discomfort is associated with, or relieved by, defaecation.

After initial diagnosis, most people (up to three-quarters) do not consult a doctor, although it is likely that many obtain OTC treatments.

Irritable bowel syndrome is described as ‘functional’ as it causes bowel symptoms and distress but no anatomical or physiological abnormality can be found to explain the symptoms. This is an important feature – it is a diagnosis of exclusion.

The condition is estimated to affect between 5-10 per cent of adults at any one time, and comes and goes in severity. In many people it reoccurs over many years but becomes less of a problem with age.

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