What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Jul 28, 2022

Irritable Bowel SyndromeIrritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common ailment that affects the large intestine. The typical symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating and gas, cramping, diarrhea, and/or constipation. While not a life-threatening condition, the extreme discomfort, pain and embarrassment that the condition causes, makes it a serious one that requires expert medical care. This is a chronic ailment and will require long-term medical care and supervision. While mild cases can be controlled by managing diet and stress and incorporating lifestyle changes, it is wise to consult a gastroenterologist before attempting any home treatment.

Types of IBS

In the past, IBS had several names, depending on the specifics of the conditions. These included IBS colitis, mucous colitis, spastic colon, nervous colon and spastic bowel. Today, only the term IBS is used but it is divided into four distinct categories:

  • IBS-C: IBS with constipation
  • IBS-D: IBS with diarrhea
  • IBS-M: IBS that alternates between diarrhea and constipation
  • IBS-U: Un-subtyped IBS is used for those whose symptoms do not fall under any of the above categories but have IBS.

You May Have IBS If...

  • You suffer from abdominal pain and bloating that become more acute when there is a bowel movement.
  • There is a change in how often a bowel movement occurs.
  • The appearance of the stool has changed.
  • There is mucus in the stool.
  • There is a sharp increase in the passing of gas (flatulence).
  • There is unexplained weight loss.
  • You have diarrhea at night.
  • Nausea and vomiting that have no other cause.
  • Rectal bleeding is observed.
  • Swallowing becomes difficult.

Also Read: Knowing When to Go to the Hospital

The Causes of IBS

The causes of IBS are still not completely known. However, several factors have been found to play a role in the development of IBS:

  • The muscles of the intestine contract to push food through it. If the contractions become stronger or last longer, the result may be bloating, gas and diarrhea. If the contractions are weak, then the stool may become dry and hard, causing constipation.
  • The digestive system is easily affected by mental stress and anxiety. That is one reason for appetite loss when stressed. If the mental tension is excessive, the resulting stress on the abdomen can upset the normal digestive process, leading to the development of IBS symptoms.
  • Stress at a young age can cause gastric problems that only become apparent in the form of IBS in later life.
  • IBS has been known to occur after an attack of gastroenteritis.
  • The intestine contains bacteria that aid in digestion but if the amount of this bacteria becomes too much, IBS can develop.
  • Changes to the microbes in the gut can cause IBS.

Risk Factors

Risk of IBS increases in the following cases:

  • Person is below the age of 50 - IBS is more common in people of a younger age.
  • Women who have had estrogen therapy before or after menopause.
  • Person suffers from stress, anxiety or any other form of mental pressure.
  • Family history of IBS – in other words, if a significant number of close relatives suffer from it.


There are no specific tests that can be used to determine if IBS exists. A doctor will conduct various tests to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms such as celiac disease. Once other conditions are ruled out, other tests will be conducted to confirm the presence of IBS. These typically include, but may not be limited to:

  • Tests for lactose intolerance and gluten and other allergies.
  • Testing the stool for signs of blood or infections.
  • Blood tests for anemia, thyroid problems and other medical conditions.
  • Abdominal x-rays.
  • Endoscopy to look for signs of heartburn or other digestive issues.
  • Colonoscopy to look for signs of blockages in the intestines.

Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

There is no single specific course of treatment for IBS. Almost all people who have the condition can be treated for it. Complete recovery from IBS is not common. In many cases, the symptoms come and go but with the right lifestyle changes and medication, patients are able to live normal, healthy and active lives. Treatment is usually a two-pronged strategy that covers both medication and lifestyle/food modifications.


These commonly include, but are not limited to:

  • Pain medications.
  • Antidepressants – these could be of various types, depending on the nature of the emotional stress.
  • Anticholinergic medications to relieve bowel spasms.
  • Anti-diarrheal medications to control diarrhea.
  • Laxatives to deal with constipation.
  • Fiber and other dietary supplements.
  • There are also some specific prescription medications to bring IBS under control.

Food & Lifestyle

These food and lifestyle changes are normally prescribed for people who suffer from IBS and other gastric ailments.

  • Avoid tea, coffee and aerated soft drinks.
  • Stop smoking or any other form of tobacco consumption.
  • Increase fiber in the diet by eating more whole grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts.
  • Increase daily water intake and drink a minimum of 4 to 5 large glasses of water a day.
  • Limit the amount of lactose in the diet by reducing milk and cheese consumption.
  • Eat smaller meals 4 or 5 times a day instead of the traditional 3 large meals.
  • Keep a record of food consumed so that the flaring up of IBS can be linked to the consumption of specific foods. Once these are identified, they can be avoided and the risk of an attack reduced.

IBS is not a fatal disease, and in less severe cases, the disease, which will have only a few or even almost no symptoms can fade away on its own. That does not mean that IBS or any chronic gastric disorder should be ignored or taken lightly. The earlier the condition is diagnosed and treated, the more quickly the problem can be controlled and normal life resumed. If you feel that you may be suffering from IBS, or any other gastric condition, consult a gastroenterologist who will conduct the required tests and do the necessary examinations to provide a diagnosis and start treatment. This is best done at a hospital that has a specialized gastroenterology department where the best doctors and the most modern diagnostic and treatment technology and equipment will be available.

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