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The Inside of IBS

April 13, 2021

Author: Caitlin Butt, MScFN, Program Assistant at Nutrition Connections

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder characterized by impaired gut function and increased nerve sensitivity.  IBS is fairly common, with 13-20% of Canadians suffering chronically1. The symptoms of IBS can interfere with a person’s physical and mental well being, quality of life, and productivity.

The cause of IBS is unclear, as it is a multifactorial disorder that likely involves an interaction between the GI tract, bacteria in the gut, the nervous system, and external factors, such as stress and dietary patterns.

Symptoms of IBS are regularly referred to the “ABCDs”1. Symptoms often include:

  • Abdominal pain due to sensitivity of  nerves in the gut,
  • Bloating due to gas production from bacteria fermented sugars,
  • Constipation from food resting in the colon for long periods of time, and/or
  • Diarrhea as the digestive system contracts quickly, typically causing urgency1.

Did you know that April is recognized as IBS awareness month in Canada?

In 2003, three patient groups – the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research (SIR), the IBS Self Help and Support Group and the Association Des Maladies Gastrointestinales Fonctionelles (AMGIF) – came together to proclaim April as IBS awareness month1. The proclamation was supported by Health Canada, who officially recognizes April as IBS Awareness month in their Calendar of health promotion days.

Why recognize April as IBS Awareness Month?

April is designated as IBS Awareness Month to raise awareness of symptoms and encourage those who suffer in silence to discuss their bowel habits and IBS symptoms with their health care provider1. Creating awareness provides an opportunity to better understand the prevalence and symptoms of IBS for patients, health care providers, and the public. Raising awareness also helps to spotlight IBS as a real health condition that can be treated, as only 40% of those who have IBS symptoms seek medical attention.

What is your role as a health care professional?

As a health care professional, acknowledging that the condition is chronic with serious effects aids to legitimize this often-abated health condition. Some individuals may be reluctant to talk about gut health and bowel habits, finding the conversation to be embarrassing or uncomfortable. If you notice your patient becomes uncomfortable during the conversation, you could ask them if they would prefer to write their symptoms down on paper and share them with you2. This could allow the individual to provide a level of detail that they might be reluctant to verbally share2.

For more information on IBS, including information on how to help support your patients visit:

Canadian Digestive Health Foundation-

Gastrointestinal Society of Canada-

IBS Patient Support Group –

Unlock Food-


  1. Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. (2020). Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Retrieved from:
  2. Healthline. (2017). How to Initiate an IBS Conversation with Your HCP. Retrieved from:


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