What is irritable bowel syndrome?

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional disorder of the bowel.

Despite numerous visits to the doctor and a thorough examination, in many cases, no physical cause for the symptoms is found. Yet it is impossible to simply ignore the symptoms, because they significantly impair quality of life.

Symptoms of IBS

The symptoms of IBS can be very diverse and usually manifest themselves as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, a feeling of fullness and abdominal cramping.

Fatigue, sleeping disorders, depression, backache, headache and joint pain are also frequently observed in combination with or as the result of IBS.

Diagnosing IBS

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According to the current guidelines of the medical associations, IBS is diagnosed in adults if the following criteria are met:

  • Alterations of the digestive process and defecation (e.g. stomach ache, flatulence, etc.) last for more than three months and evolve into chronic intestinal disorders.
  • Complaints are so strong that the patient seeks medical advice and feels that his or her quality of life is compromised.
  • No further pathologies (e.g. coeliac disease) have been detected that could be responsible for the symptoms.

Food plan and food diary

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The treatment of IBS is as unique as each digestive symptom. While there is no standard treatment, with a bit of patience and deliberate avoidance of certain foods, you can put together an individual food plan that can help you to calm your bowel and improve your quality of life. Keep a food diary and consult a nutritional specialist for advice.

Low-FODMAP and gluten free diet

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Once you identify which foods trigger or exacerbate the symptoms, you can react. For many people with IBS, following a gluten free diet significantly decreases the occurrence of pain, flatulence and fatigue and improves stool consistency. A current study undertaken by Charité Berlin has shown that one-third of the patients with IBS significantly benefited from a gluten free diet and are even able to live a symptom-free life. In these patients, gluten and wheat sensitivity was responsible for the IBS. However, it is important for coeliac disease and wheat allergy to be excluded before you start to follow a gluten free diet.

In addition, your attending physician or nutritional advisor should determine whether consumption of so-called FODMAPs (fermentable oligo- di- and monosaccharides and polyols) should be restricted. The low-FODMAP diet delivers promising results and for several years, some physicians have used it as a treatment strategy for IBS.


Are you a physician or nutritional specialist? You will find more detailed information on irritable bowel syndrome at Dr. Schär Institute, the knowledge platform for experts on the topic of gluten intolerance and the gluten free diet.