Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms, including pain discomfort in your abdomen combined with changes in your bowel movement patterns.
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WHAT IS IRRITABLE
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS,
is a group of symptoms, including pain discomfort in your
abdomen combined with changes in your bowel
movement patterns. IBS is a functional gastrointestinal
disorder, which means your GI tract behaves in an
abnormal way without evidence of damage due to a
In the past, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, was referred
as colitis, mucous colitis, spastic colon, nervous colon,
and spastic bowel. The change in the term reflects a
better understanding that the disorder can have both a
physical and mental component, such as stress.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include pain
or discomfort in your abdomen and changes in how often you have
bowel movements or how your stools look. Pain or discomfort of
irritable bowel syndrome may feel like cramping accompanied by at
least two of these changes:
• Your pain or discomfort improves after a bowel movement.
• You notice a change in how often you have a bowel movement.
• You notice a change in the way your stools look.
• You’ve had symptoms at least three times a month for the past 3
• Your symptoms first started at least 6 months ago.
How common is IBS?
According to the NIH, as many as 1 in 5 American adults
have signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, yet
less than 1 in 5 who have symptoms seek medical help.
IBS is estimated to affect 10 to 15 percent of U.S. adults.
IBS affects about twice as many women as men and most
often occurs in people younger than age 45.
What causes IBS?
• The precise causes of IBS are unknown. The walls of the
intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract and relax
in a coordinated rhythm as they move food from your stomach
through your intestinal tract to your rectum.
• If you have irritable bowel syndrome, the contractions may be
stronger and last longer than normal, causing gas, bloating and
diarrhea. Or the opposite may occur, with weak intestinal
contractions slowing food passage and leading to hard, dry
• It is thought that various stimuli can prompt symptoms in
people with IBS; of course not all people react to the same
Some of the common triggers include:
• Hormonal changes in women. Younger women with IBS
often have more symptoms during their menstrual
periods. Post-menopausal women have fewer symptoms
compared with women who are still menstruating.
• Other gastrointestinal illnesses, including acute episodes
of infectious diarrhea (gastroenteritis) or bacterial
overgrowth in the intestines.
When to see your doctor?
• As with any other persistent change in bowel habits or
prolonged episodes of gastric distress, seeing your doctor
is crucial in the effective treatment of IBS and early
diagnosis of more serious conditions, such as cancer.
How is IBS diagnosed?
• Your doctor may be able to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome
beginning with a review of your medical history, symptoms, and a
physical exam. In some cases, depending on the symptoms and
other factors in your medical history, a stool test may be ordered and
a flexible sigmoidoscopy, an outpatient procedure, may be performed
to examine the lower large intestine.
• Keeping a written record of any changes in your normal bowel
movement routine, changes to your diet, or additional life stressors
will help with a diagnosis. Any information about a family history of
gastrointestinal tract disorders can also be helpful in the diagnosis.
• The combination of symptoms combined with your personal history,
and any other tests that have been performed will provide your doctor
with the information needed for a diagnosis and a course of treatment.
What are the available treatments?
Irritable bowel syndrome doesn’t have a cure, but once
you’ve been diagnosed your doctor can help you manage
the symptoms through a combination of diet, medicines,
probiotics, and therapies for any presenting mental health
issues. You may have to try a few treatments to see which
combination works best for you.
Perhaps one of the most harmful side effects of irritable
bowel syndrome can be the toll that it takes on a person’s
general quality of life leading to depression and other
negative mental health outcomes, which makes finding a
medical diagnosis and treatment regimen vitally
If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of
irritable bowel syndrome contact your doctor today.
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