Abdominal pain or discomfort; stomach bloating; chronic diarrhoea or constipation - or alternating between the two? It could be irritable bowel syndrome.
One in five Australians will experience the symptoms at some time, with women more likely to be affected than men.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a digestive health condition that involves changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal cramping and bloating. While there is no single cause, triggers can include emotional stress, change in routine or infection.
Often the pain can be relieved by passing wind or faeces.
Diarrhoea is a common sign of irritable bowel syndrome.
As unpleasant (and embarrassing) as it can be, it's a digestion issue that should be closely monitored due to side effects, such as dehydration, which can cause dizziness, irritability and headache.
Talk to your pharmacist to assist with potential dehydration.
On the flip side, constipation can also be a sign. Eating fibrous food such as fruit and vegetable, and increasing your water intake, can be an effective way to alleviate symptoms of constipation. But if simple dietary changes don't seem to be doing the trick, talk to your pharmacist about a short-term solution such as an over-the-counter laxative.
Abdominal pain is the most common symptom and can occur anywhere in the abdomen area.
In a healthy digestive system, the brain and gut work together to ensure everything is functioning smoothly. But in those with irritable bowel syndrome, the signals between brain and gut become uncoordinated, causing painful muscle spasms in the digestive tract.
While abdominal cramping is unpleasant, there are multiple ways to alleviate and improve pain such as following a low FODMAP diet, or even cognitive behaviour therapy and hypnotherapy. However, it's important to make your GP the first port of call.
There's nothing more uncomfortable than feeling bloated or full after you eat, despite your best efforts to eat a nutritious and well-balanced diet. Unfortunately, a common sign of irritable bowel syndrome can be gas and bloating, caused by altered digestion. Treatments that may assist include over-the-counter herbal digestive liquids and probiotics.
"Your local pharmacy will have a number of over-the-counter options available to help alleviate symptoms and maintain healthy gut function," said pharmacist Montana Grenfell.
"Ask your pharmacist about brands like Iberogast or Metamucil, or more affordable generics like APOHEALTH or Chemists' Own.
"Remember to always seek medical advice first to rule out any other potential causes of bowel issues you may be experiencing."
For more on irritable bowel syndrome, click HERE