Essential oils can help as they are anti-inflammatory and they also relax the bowel due to their antispasmodic properties.

Around one in five Australians experiences the unpleasant symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) at some time. These include abdominal pain, mucus in the stools, and alternating diarrhoea and constipation. Other terms for irritable bowel syndrome include ‘spastic colon’ and ‘irritable colon’. It seems that people with IBS have sensitive bowels that are easily ‘upset’. More women than men are prone to IBS, and symptoms tend to first occur in early adulthood.

The cause is unknown, but environmental factors such as changes of routine, emotional stress, infection and diet can trigger an attack. Research has shown that the neurotransmitter serotonin may be important in the symptoms of IBS, by altering the function of nerve cells in the bowel and causing changes in pain sensation and bowel function.

Irritable bowel syndrome doesn’t cause lasting damage and doesn’t contribute to the development of serious bowel conditions, such as cancer or colitis.

The underlying cause of irritable bowel syndrome is still unknown, but certain factors have been found to ‘trigger’ attacks in susceptible individuals.

These include:
Infection – an episode of gastroenteritis will often result in persistent bowel symptoms, long after the offending bacteria or virus has been eliminated. The cause of this is unknown, but may involve changes to nerve function in the bowel or changes in the normal bacterial population of the bowel. Up to 25 per cent of IBS may be due to this problem.

Food intolerance – impaired absorption of the sugar lactose (found in dairy and many processed foods) is the most common dietary trigger for IBS. Other sugars believed to trigger IBS are fructose (present in many syrups) and sorbitol.

General diet – low-fibre diets can exacerbate the constipation of constipation-predominant IBS. Some people find spicy or sugary foods cause problems. However, many experts are sceptical about the role of general diet, once specific food intolerances have been eliminated.

Emotional stress – strong emotions, such as anxiety or stress, can affect the nerves of the bowel in susceptible people.

Medication – certain types (such as antibiotics, antacids and painkillers) can lead to constipation or diarrhoea.