Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS is a condition associated with symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel function (constipation, diarrhea, or alternating pattern of constipation and diarrhea). Doctors call IBS a functional disorder. This means there is not a structural abnormality in bowel. Instead it is a problem with the way the bowels work. In IBS the nerves that control contractions in the bowels are extra sensitive to certain kinds of food, hormones, or stress.

How is IBS diagnosed?

There are defined criteria for the diagnosis of IBS. The diagnosis is based on a patient’s symptoms and how long and how often the symptoms are present. The key clinical symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain that is associated with a change in frequency or consistency of the stool.

Your doctor will check to be sure that the symptoms are not due to other causes, if further work-up is needed. Various blood tests, x-rays, and examinations, such as sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy may be done, but may not always be required.

Who is affected by IBS?

The impact of these symptoms is significant. In America, 1 in 5 adults (40 million people) may suffer from these symptoms. IBS is the second leading cause of work-related absenteeism

What is the relationship with stress?

The gut has its own nervous system. There is a brain-gut interaction and psychological stress may cause or increase symptoms. This brain-gut connection confirms there is a physical basis for the relationship between emotions (such as stress) and IBS symptoms. This is why doctors try to help IBS patients deal with psychological stress.

How is IBS treated?

Mild symptoms may be treated by eliminating food and drink that make the symptoms worse. Avoiding coffee/caffeine, alcohol, fatty foods, and dairy products may be helpful. If something seems to make it worse, eliminating it from the diet may be effective. Some medications may cause symptoms as well. Check with your doctor to help determine if medications may be a part of the problem.

Moderate symptoms that interfere sometimes with work, school, or social life may require keeping a diary. Keeping a list of your symptoms and associating what you are doing at the time of the symptoms can be very helpful in assessing the problem. Behavioral treatment for moderate to severe symptoms may include relaxation therapy, hypnosis, biofeedback, and cognitive-behavioral treatment. These kinds of treatment are recommended to help you cope better with your symptoms.

Severe symptoms may require treatment with antidepressants. These drugs act as pain relievers. They work by blocking or reducing pain sensations in your gut from reaching the brain.

For more information:

American Gastroenterological Association