The aim of this review is to highlight the impact of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in those patients who consult the medical profession and examine the therapeutic potential of probiotics in this condition, where there is a strong need for new treatment options. Traditionally, IBS is frequently regarded as a trivial condition which is certainly not life threatening and mainly psychological in origin. However, these preconceptions are misplaced, as in some patients the condition can be devastating with the pain being as severe as that of childbirth coupled with incapacitating bowel dysfunction. In addition, patients suffer from a variety of non-colonic symptoms such as low backache, constant lethargy, nausea and genito-urinary problems, all of which lead to these patients having extremely poor quality of life. Unfortunately, the treatment of IBS is very unsatisfactory with only one new medication being developed for this condition in the last 25 years. It is now recognised that IBS is a multifactorial condition with symptoms being triggered by a variety of factors, some of which appear to be influenced by probiotics, resulting in speculation that they may have therapeutic potential in this condition. There have been over thirty controlled clinical trials of probiotics in IBS with approximately two-thirds of these studies showing evidence of an improvement in symptoms. However, not all probiotics appear to be effective with different symptoms being improved by different strains and some improving symptoms more than others. Consequently, the ideal probiotic for the treatment of IBS has yet to be defined, but the evidence is good enough to encourage further research with the aim of identifying an optimal strain or strains.