My name is Dr Dawn Harper.

I'm a GP with a particular interest in women's health.

Irritable bowel syndrome is common.

It affects about one in five of the UK population, and most are women.

The symptoms can be variable but often people tell me

that they feel they've got colicky, crampy tummy pain,

they feel bloated, they're full of wind

and they feel quite lethargic with it sometimes.

Some people get constipated, others have got diarrhoea

and some alternate between the two.

The thing is to recognise the symptoms in you

and to know what to do about them.

Irritable bowel can be related to your diet.

Some people find that if they don't eat enough fibre,

their symptoms are much worse,

and undoubtedly stress makes anything about irritable bowel worse.

Sadly, IBS is not totally curable.

It's a matter of keeping your symptoms under control.

Sometimes I have patients who will take medication

when they're under periods of high pressure

but they don't need it at other times.

Treatment of IBS, really, is a balance of managing your lifestyle

and medication if you need it.

The medications that I use are antispasmodics.

What those do is they settle down the spasm in the muscular wall of the bowel.

The bowel is like an eight- to nine-metre muscular tube

and food gets from one end to the other in about 72 hours.

It gets from one end to the other

by being squeezed by muscular contractions,

a little bit like squeezing toothpaste out of the tube.

People who suffer with IBS either have more severe contractions

or a heightened awareness of the normal contractions.

You'll never get rid of those contractions.

It would be wrong to try. But you can reduce their severity

and therefore get rid of the symptoms.

We don't know exactly what causes IBS.

We do know that people who suffer with IBS

are either more aware of their normality

or possibly have more intense contractions

in the muscular wall of the bowel.

But, interestingly, the link between stress would fit with that.

If we're stressed, hyped up

and we're more aware of things and running on adrenaline,

then our symptoms of IBS are likely to get worse.

We all respond differently to stress.

Some people will find that they have skin conditions that flare up.

Some people fall about in tears and get very loud and emotional.

Others will get palpitations.

But if you are an IBS sufferer,

the chances are that if you're under a period of stress,

that your body will react by having an increase in bowel symptoms.

If I had IBS, I would look at my diet, increase my fluids,

but, if I'm really honest,

I would take a good hard look at my stress levels.

Stress will always make IBS worse

and there is always something we can do to alleviate it.