Irritable Bowel Syndrome


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) has a pattern of symptoms that include pain and bloating. It is not a true "disease" because it cannot be caught or transmitted to another person. It cannot be cured with medication or surgery. It is not life-threatening, although the symptoms can be severe at times. Constipation, diarrhea or both can occur. Cramps, urgency with bowel movements, a gassy, bloated feeling in the abdomen or increased mucous in the bowel movement may be associated with IBS. Rectal bleeding is not associated with IBS and should always be investigated.

The actual cause of IBS is not known, but it is associated with an abnormality in the contraction of the intestinal muscles. Although they may look normal, they may contract too weakly, too strongly, too rapidly or too slowly. Stress may make the symptoms of IBS worse because of increased stimulation of the intestine by the brain.

There is no test that can prove the diagnosis of IBS. However, multiple tests may need to be done when IBS is suspected because more severe conditions may exist and need to be identified. Testing may include blood tests, x-rays, colonoscopy and psychological testing.

Because the cause of IBS is not known, often times the treatment for IBS is symptomatic. Relieving strees may be effective in improving the symptoms. Adding bulk to your diet, such as raw fruits and vegetables, as well as fiber supplementation, may also help to improve symptoms. Caffeine, milk-products and alcohol may worsen symptoms. Your doctor may recommend avoiding these. There are some medications that directly affect the muscles of the intestine. Your doctor may also prescribe these to help with symptoms. Some people obtain better relief from one medication over another. These medications do have side-effects that may prevent some people from taking them.

Relief of IBS and its symptoms is a slow process. Patience is extremely important. Not all patients will be able to completely eliminate their symptoms, but most people can be improved. Definite improvement may not be noticed for six or more months. Symptoms are also known to recur.

Although IBS does not lead to cancer of the intestine or inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulosis and hemorrhoids may be associated with long term IBS. Treatment with bulk agents, such as psyllium fiber supplements, can be helpful for these problems.

The content on this site is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.