Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also referred to as a spastic or irritable colon is a disorder of the large intestine. IBS sufferers experience stomach cramps, diarrhea, pain, gas, bloating and constipation. It is believed to be caused by a dysfunction of the organ muscles or nerves of the gastrointestinal tract.

IBS should not be confused or used interchangeably with the term inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which refers to the abnormal bowel structure seen in Crohn’s disease and colitis patients.

IBS does not increase a patient’s chances for developing colon cancer.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

IBS is a chronic disease that can develop at any time, usually in a person’s teens to early adult years and is more common in women. During active bouts of IBS, symptoms are uncomfortable but usually not disabling, though in rare cases they can be.

Because the symptoms of IBS can vary from person to person and often resemble those of other more serious conditions, it is important to speak with a gastroenterologist, someone who specializes in diseases of the digestive system.

All IBS patients will exhibit different symptoms with varying degrees of severity but the three most common symptoms include: Abdominal pain, gas and bloating

Constipation and diarrhea – Patients may have one worse than the other or alternate.

Bowel movements may be frequent, hard to control and there may be mucous present in the stool.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Causes

What causes IBS?

Scientists have yet to pinpoint what actually causes the dysfunction in the muscles or nerves that cause irritable bowel syndrome. Hormones and stress are believed to play a role, particularly in women.

The cause of pain experienced by some IBS patients also remains a mystery but most doctors agree that intestinal contractions are the likely culprit. IBS causes the muscles in the colon to contract irregularly, either moving the food along too fast or too slow, irritating the large intestine.

Many sufferers of IBS keep a food diary so they can track and pinpoint any “trigger foods” that might be causing or worsening the problem. Some IBS patients are lactose intolerant, some are not. Some are bothered by heavy meals, some are not. Keeping a food diary and bringing it with you to your physician or gastroenterologist can help he/she help manage your symptoms.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment

To diagnose irritable bowel syndrome, doctors will begin with a thorough physical examination, check blood work for anemia and possibly check a stool sample for infection.

Some gastroenterologists will order a colonoscopy to rule out colon cancer, celiac disease or ulcerative colitis.

Since there is no true test to diagnose IBS, other diseases must be ruled out.

Irritable bowel syndrome cannot be cured but in time, the symptoms can be managed.

Once a diagnosis is made, the patient is instructed to observe their diet for food triggers and avoid heavy meals.

Medication: There are several medications doctors use to treat symptoms of IBS. Since some patients have more pain than others, some are bothered by constipation and some by diarrhea; the physician will tailor the plan to treat the patient-specific symptoms.

Common medications include:

  • Over-the-counter fiber supplements (psyllium, Metamucil, Citrucel)
  • Antibiotics
  • Amitiza
  • Bisacodyl
  • Lubiprostone
  • Loperamide
  • Tricyclic antidepressants – Paxil, amitriptyline (Elavil), imipramine (Tofranil)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Prevention

How can you prevent IBS?

As a patient’s treatment plan differs, so will their prevention. Since doctors aren’t sure what causes IBS, they don’t know how to prevent it, though they do have a few suggestions for overall lifestyle changes that may significantly reduce triggering episodes.

  • Eat smaller meals
  • Keep a food diary and stay away from known foods that cause IBS symptoms
  • Find a healthy way to reduce stress
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Get regular exercise

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Resources

IBS Group –