A guide to managing medically diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome


Many of us suffer from a grumbly stomach every now and then, but those who have medically diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome (MD-IBS) experience tummy troubles on a whole other level.


The word ‘irritable’ in MD-IBS accounts for an increase in sensitivity, which causes nerve endings in the bowel to become reactive and easily irritated by environmental factors, such as certain foods and stress.[1]


Think back to a time where you have felt grumpy or irritable, your fuse becomes a little shorter than usual and small things became big deals.  This experience is very similar for your bowels when you have MD-IBS.


As a chronic condition, MD-IBS can require ongoing care.[2]  While that may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be.  With support from your health practitioner, there are many effective ways in which you can find relief from MD-IBS symptoms.  In addition to diet and lifestyle measures, new research has brought to light the connection between the microbiome-gut-brain axis and MD-IBS symptoms, bringing the gut microbiome and beneficial bacteria into focus when it comes to the care and management of this condition.


So, let’s dive in and explore the connection between MD-IBS, your gut microbiome and the role of probiotics for IBS symptoms.


More about MD-IBS

MD-IBS is characterised by a collection of symptoms affecting the large bowel, including changes to normal bowel health such as abdominal pain, gas and bloating.[3]  It is called a ‘functional’ disorder because it is not associated with any visible/structural abnormalities of the bowel and therefore is often diagnosed based on the absence of other bowel disorders. [4]


How common is MD-IBS?

MD-IBS is more common than you may think. 

Around 1 in 5 Australians experience MD-IBS at some point in their lives and it is the reason for up to 50% of gut-related visits to the GP.[5] [6] [4] MD-IBS occurs more frequently in females and symptoms generally first appear during early adulthood.1

Although the cause of MD-IBS is unknown, it is believed to involve the digestive, immune and nervous systems.  More recently, it has come to light that MD-IBS may occur in response to abnormalities within the microbiome-gut-brain axis.


What is the microbiome-gut-brain axis?

The microbiome-gut-brain axis describes a complex network of communication pathways that link parts of the nervous system with the gut and the microbes that grow within it.  This 2-way communication pathway allows gut health to influence brain health and vice versa.  If you have ever had the feeling of butterflies in your tummy, than you have experienced this connection first-hand.  Read more about the microbiome-gut-brain axis


What do microbes have to do with MD-IBS?

Research has shown that those with MD-IBS have different microbial communities in their guts when compared to those with healthy bowel function.4  While there is still much to be learned, these recent discoveries have led to the investigation of the benefits of probiotic therapy for the treatment of MD-IBS.


MD-IBS treatment: Probiotics

Recent studies suggest that supplementing with beneficial probiotic bacteria can help relieve symptoms of MD-IBS. 

For instance, Lactobacillus plantarum 299v is a probiotic strain which adheres to the gut lining of the bowel and can relieve abdominal pain, bloating and gas, in addition to supporting healthy bowel function.[7]


Diet and lifestyle support:

One of the best ways to manage MD-IBS is to take the ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach and avoid triggers wherever possible.

Common dietary and lifestyle triggers of MD-IBS include:

          • Stress
          • Irregular eating habits
          • Potential food triggers: alcohol, caffeine, spicy food, high fat
          • Lack of physical activity
          • Poor quality sleep [1] [8] [9]


So, based on everything we currently know about better management of MD-IBS, here’s 3 of our best tips to help relieve your symptoms and improve your bowel health:

  1. Wake up and smell the routine – Routine is key when it comes to symptom management. Keeping set, regularly spaced meal-times, a daily exercise plan, and good sleep habits can make a world of difference when it comes to MD-IBS.[9]
  2. Go easy on the spice (and some other things nice) Rich foods such as coffee, alcohol and fat can take their toll on digestive health at the best of times and those with MD-IBS can be particularly sensitive. Some evidence also suggests there is a benefit in following more advanced dietary programs such as the FODMAP diet. However, at the end of the day we are all unique, and therefore we recommend consulting your medical professional to see which diet is right for you. [8]
  3. Take a probiotic (made especially for MD-IBS) There are many probiotics on the market however different probiotic products contain different strains, and different strains have different health effects. Taking a daily probiotic, such as Life-Space IBS Support probiotic with Lactobacillus plantarum 299v , which has been specifically formulated to help MD-IBS, can assist with the relief of MD-IBS symptoms, such as abdominal pain and bloating.

    Always read the label and follow the directions for use. Supplements should not replace a balanced diet.  If you are after more specific health advice regarding your IBS, speak to your health professional.


    [1] Better Health Channel.  Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) [Internet].  Better Health Channel. 2021 [updated 2021; cited December 23rd 2021].  Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs

    [2] Drossman, D.A. FAQs about IBS [Internet]. Chapel Hill, NC, USA; The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. 2021 [updated 2021; cited 2021, 23RD December]. Available from: https://aboutibs.org/what-is-ibs/faq-about-ibs/ https://aboutibs.org/what-is-ibs/faq-about-ibs/

    [3] Mayo Clinic. Irritable Bowel Syndrome [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2021 [Updated December 1, 2021: cited December 23rd 2021].  Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360016

    [4] Borghini R, Donato G, Alvaro D, Picarelli A. New insights in IBS-like disorders: Pandora's box has been opened; a review. Gastroenterology and Hepatology from bed to bench. 2017;10(2):79.

    [5] Aziz, I., Törnblom, H., Palsson, O.S., Whitehead, W.E. and Simrén, M., 2018. How the change in IBS criteria from Rome III to Rome IV impacts on clinical characteristics and key pathophysiological factors. Official journal of the American College of Gastroenterology| ACG113(7), pp.1017-1025.

    [6] Kennedy PJ, Cryan JF, Dinan TG, Clarke G. Irritable bowel syndrome: a microbiome-gut-brain axis disorder?. World journal of gastroenterology: WJG. 2014 Oct 21;20(39):14105.

    [7] Ducrotté P, Sawant P, Jayanthi V. Clinical trial: Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (DSM 9843) improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. World journal of gastroenterology: WJG. 2012 Aug 14;18(30):4012.

    [8] Guo YB, Zhuang KM, Kuang L, Zhan Q, Wang XF, Liu SD. Association between diet and lifestyle habits and irritable bowel syndrome: a case-control study. Gut and liver. 2015 Sep;9(5):649.

    [9] Cozma-Petruţ A, Loghin F, Miere D, Dumitraşcu DL. Diet in irritable bowel syndrome: What to recommend, not what to forbid to patients!. World journal of gastroenterology. 2017 Jun 7;23(21):3771.