What you need to know about Irritable Bowel Syndrome
What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a problem that affects mainly the bowel,* which is also called the large intestine. The bowel is the part of the digestive system that makes and stores stool. The word syndrome means a group of symptoms. IBS is a syndrome because it can cause several symptoms. For example, IBS causes cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
*Linked terms are defined in the glossary.
IBS is not a disease. It's a functional disorder, which means that the bowel doesn't work as it should.
With IBS, the nerves and muscles in the bowel are extra-sensitive. For example, the muscles may contract too much when you eat. These contractions can cause cramping and diarrhea during or shortly after a meal. Or the nerves can be overly sensitive to the stretching of the bowel (because of gas, for example). Cramping or pain can result.
IBS can be painful. But it does not damage the bowel or cause any other diseases.[Top]
Does stress cause IBS?
Emotional stress will not cause a person to develop IBS. But if you already have IBS, stress can trigger symptoms. In fact, the bowel can overreact to all sorts of things, including food, exercise, and hormones.
Foods that tend to cause symptoms include milk products, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, and fatty foods. In some cases, simply eating a large meal will trigger symptoms.
Women with IBS often have more symptoms during their menstrual periods.[Top]
What are the symptoms of IBS?
The main symptoms of IBS are
Most people have either diarrhea or constipation, but some people have both.
Other symptoms are
How is IBS diagnosed?
The doctor will suspect that you have IBS because of your symptoms. But the doctor may do medical tests to make sure you don't have any other diseases that could cause the symptoms.[Top]
Medical Tests for IBS
What is the treatment?
IBS has no cure, but you can do things to relieve symptoms. Treatment may involve
You may have to try a combination of things to see which works best for you.
Some foods make IBS worse.
Here are some foods that may cause symptoms:
If certain foods cause symptoms, you should eat less of them or stop eating them.
To find out which foods are a problem, write down this information:
Take your notes to the doctor to see if you should stop eating certain foods.
Some foods make IBS better.
Here are some examples of foods with fiber:
Add foods with fiber to your diet a little at a time to let your body get used to them. Too much fiber all at once might cause gas, which can trigger symptoms in a person with IBS.
Besides telling you to eat more foods with fiber, the doctor might also tell you to get more fiber by taking a fiber pill or drinking water mixed with a special high-fiber powder.
How much you eat matters, too.
Large meals can cause cramping and diarrhea in people with IBS. If this happens to you, try eating four or five small meals a day. Or, have your usual three meals, but eat less at each meal.
If necessary, the doctor might give you medicine to help with symptoms:
You must follow your doctor's instructions when you use these medicines. Otherwise, you could become dependent on them.
Does stress trigger your symptoms? Learning to reduce stress can help. With less stress, you may find that you have less cramping and pain. Also, you may find it easier to manage your symptoms.
Meditation, exercise, and counseling are some things that might help. You may need to try different activities to see what works best for you.[Top]
Points to Remember