What Do You Want to Know About IBS?
A syndrome is a collection of symptoms that often occur together. Irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common syndrome that causes many individuals to seek
medical help. This condition is separate from inflammatory bowel disease and is
not related to other bowel conditions.
Irritable bowel syndrome is also known as spastic colon, irritable colon,
mucous colitis, and spastic colitis. The condition includes symptoms such as
cramping, abdominal pain and bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Some
individuals who have the condition have minor symptoms, while others experience
a significant impact on daily life.
IBS can cause intestinal damage in some causes. Typically it just causes a
range of symptoms. According to the National Digestive
Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), approximately 20 percent of
Americans experience IBS symptoms, and more women than men are affected.
IBS does not increase your risk for gastrointestinal cancers, but it can
still have a significant effect on your life.
What Causes IBS?
The exact cause of IBS is unknown. Possible causes include an overly
sensitive colon or immune system. Post-infectious IBS is caused by a previous bacterial
infection in the gastrointestinal tract.
The physical processes involved in IBS can vary, but may consist of:
- slowed or spastic movements of the colon, causing
- abnormal serotonin levels in the colon, affecting
motility and bowel movements
- mild celiac disease that damages the intestines,
causing IBS symptoms
Symptoms of IBS
Individuals with IBS have gastrointestinal complaints that last at least
three months for at least three days per month. Symptoms such as bloating and
gas are typically resolved after having a bowel movement. It’s not uncommon for
an individual with IBS to have episodes of both constipation and diarrhea.
These symptoms do not have to be persistent. They can be present for a period
of time and then resolve, only to come back. Some individuals experience
How Is IBS Diagnosed?
Your doctor may be able to diagnose IBS based on your reported symptoms. They
may have you adopt a certain diet or cut out specific food groups for periods
of time to rule out any food allergies. A stool sample may be taken to rule out
infection, and blood tests can be done to check for anemia and rule out
A colonoscopy may also be performed. This is a test in which a tube with a
camera and light source is inserted through the anus to enable your doctor to
examine your colon and take tissue samples (biopsies) if necessary. This is typically done
only if your doctor suspects other causes for your symptoms, such as colitis,
inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease), or cancer. It is also typically
recommended as a screening test for cancer if you are over 50 years of age and
have not had a previous colonoscopy.
There is no cure for IBS. Treatment is aimed at symptom relief. Lifestyle
changes are typically tried before medication.
Things you can do to ease symptoms of IBS include:
in regular physical exercise
caffeinated beverages that stimulate the intestines
deep-fried or spicy foods
stress (talk therapy may help)
probiotics (“good” bacteria normally found in the intestines. There is
evidence that probiotics can help relieve gas and bloating.)
If your symptoms do not improve, your doctor may suggest medications.
Patients respond to different medications, so you may need to work with your
doctor to find the right medication for you. Drugs that are used include
medications to control muscle spasms, anti-constipation drugs, tricyclic
antidepressants to ease pain, and antibiotics. If your main IBS symptom is constipation,
linaclotide and lubiprostone are two drugs that are recommended by
College of Gastroenterology (ACG).
Do not take any over-the-counter medications for your symptoms without first
talking with your doctor.
Living With IBS
IBS can be uncomfortable and may make it difficult for you to work, attend
social events, or travel. However, symptoms can be improved and successfully
Stress can exacerbate symptoms. If you have IBS, your colon may be overly
responsive to even slight conflict. There is also evidence that IBS is affected
by the immune system, which is affected by stress.
Complementary therapies that can help promote relaxation include: