Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the intestines. IBS does not cause inflammation and does not lead to a more serious condition.

  • Causes


    The cause is unknown. With IBS, the muscles in the colon do not work normally and may spasm. If you have IBS, your colon may be more sensitive, reacting strongly to food and medication.
    Food allergies
    and certain bacteria may add to the symptoms. IBS may also occur after having the stomach flu (called
    gastroenteritis).

  • Definition

    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the intestines. IBS does not cause inflammation and does not lead to a more serious condition.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. In many cases, a diagnosis can be made based on this. Since there is no diagnostic test for IBS, doctors have created criteria for making a diagnosis.

    Your doctor may order the following tests to rule out other conditions:

    • Analysis of a stool sample to check for blood or evidence of inflammation
    • Blood tests
    • Barium enema
      —injection of fluid into the rectum to make the colon show up on an
      x-ray
      , allows the doctor to see abnormal spots in the colon
    • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
      —a thin, lighted tube inserted into the rectum to examine the rectum and the lower colon
    • Colonoscopy
      —a thin, lighted tube inserted through the rectum and into the colon to examine the lining of the entire colon


    Your doctor may also screen you for
    celiac disease
    , which is more common in people with IBS.

    Colonoscopy
    Colonoscopy scope
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  • Prevention

    There are no guidelines for preventing IBS because the cause is unknown.

  • Risk Factors

    These factors increase your chance of developing IBS:

    • Sex: female
    • Family members with IBS
    • Age: typically begins in young adulthood
    • Stress
    • Generalized anxiety disorder
      (associated with IBS)
    • Abuse (may be associated with IBS)

    Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors.

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms usually come and go, and range from mild to severe. They include:

    • Abdominal cramps
    • Gas and bloating
    • Pain that resolves with a bowel movement
    • Loose stools
    • Diarrhea
    • Constipation
    • Alternating diarrhea and constipation
    • Urge to move bowels again immediately following a bowel movement
    • Mucus in the stool

    These factors may worsen your symptoms:

    • Stress
    • Menstrual periods
    • Large meals or fatty foods
    • Excess gas

  • Treatment

    There is no cure for IBS. Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms.