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What Is IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS, describes a group of uncomfortable symptoms that can cause abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea. IBS is also known as spastic colon or spastic colitis. IBS is diagnosed when the symptoms and bowel changes occur for 3 or more months.

In the United States, IBS is diagnosed most often in women around the age of 35. IBS is one of the most commonly diagnosed abdominal disorders, with about 20% of adults having the diagnosis. Those with a family history of IBS are more likely to have it as well.

IBS can be categorized as IBS constipation, IBS diarrhea, or IBS with constipation and diarrhea. Often, the symptoms are recurring with periods where symptoms lessen for a time.

What Are The Common Causes of IBS?

The cause of IBS is not known. There are theories out there linking IBS with hormonal changes and antibiotic treatment that kills intestinal flora. However, there is no definitive evidence that these things cause IBS.

What Triggers IBS?

There are 11 common triggers for IBS:11 Common Triggers for IBS

  1. Milk/dairy products
  2. Alcohol
  3. Carbonated drinks
  4. Artificial sweeteners
  5. Onions
  6. Garlic
  7. Specific fruits and vegetables
  8. Caffeinated drinks
  9. Smoking
  10. Stress
  11. Any foods that can cause gas

What Are The Symptoms Of IBS?

There are a variety of symptoms experienced by those with IBS. Symptoms and their severity vary from person to person. Women tend to have an increase in symptoms during their menses (Perhaps this may be why there is a theory that hormones play a role).

Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Changes in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or both)
  • Incomplete bowel emptying
  • Alternating between diarrhea and constipation
  • Gas
  • Bloated/distended abdomen
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Nausea
  • Feeling of fullness after eating a normal-sized meal

How Is IBS Diagnosed?

Symptoms of IBS are similar to and may mimic other disorders like Celiac disease and lactose intolerance.  

When IBS is suspected, a physician or gastroenterologist always begins with obtaining a history and completing a physical examination.  Symptoms are reviewed and discussed to see if there is a clear pattern. Since there is no definitive test for IBS, other disorders have to be ruled out.

Often times when IBS is suspected, physicians have patients keep a food journal to link triggers to symptoms.

The following tests are performed to rule out other problems:

  • Colonoscopy
    A colonoscopy is used to check for growths, ulcers, and inflammation.
  • Blood tests
    Blood may be tested for Celiac disease.
  • Rectal exam
  • Stool test
    Stool may be tested for blood.

There are some symptoms that, when reviewed with the doctor, raise red flags and are further examined. The red flag symptoms are:IBS: Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Diarrhea so severe that it wakes you from sleep
  • h/o Colorectal cancer
  • h/o Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Fever
  • Bloody stool

These symptoms prompt further testing to rule out cancer, Ulcerative Colitis, Chron’s disease, diverticulitis, gallstones (usually present with severe, sudden pain).

When all other diseases are ruled out, there are no signs of disease or damage in your intestine, and the recurring symptoms are consistent with IBS, the diagnosis is expected.

How Is IBS Treated?

Treatment for IBS is typically symptom related. It can include dietary changes, medications, exercise, and decreasing stress.

Dietary changes to consider:

  • Increase fiber
  • Increase water intake
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals
  • Eliminate gluten
  • FODMAP diet
  • Decrease fructose intake
    A study showed relief of symptoms in some people who restricted fructose.

Medications used to treat IBS:

  • Fiber supplements (Psyllium Husks, Citracel)
  • Probiotics
  • Peppermint oil
  • Anti-diarrheal
  • Laxatives
  • Anti-spasmotics (Bentyl, Hyosyamine)
  • Other IBS medications (Lubiprostone)

Exercise/Stress Management

  • Counseling
  • Yoga
  • Massage

What is the Outcome For People With IBS?

While there is no cure for IBS, there are many options for treatment and management of the symptoms. IBS is a functional disease and although it can cause discomfort, it is not life-threatening. People with mild symptoms can cope quite well with minimal disruption to everyday life.

For those with severe symptoms, IBS can disrupt your life, especially for those with IBS-Diarrhea. IBS can be embarrassing and stressful.

People with IBS can feel like their symptoms are being ignored and that they are not being taken seriously. Due to the fact that the symptoms are so common, many people suffer for quite some time before being diagnosed. However, most people with IBS can make small changes in daily life activities. It may be necessary to avoid trigger foods, plan trips carefully (due to the frequency of bathroom trips), and even carrying taking food with you to places where our triggers are being served.

People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome can lead great, exciting lives, with a few tweaks. It helps to do your own research and reach out to support groups in your area.

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The information in this article is to be used for informational purposes only. It is NOT to be used in place of, or in conjunction with, professional medical advice. Anyone with questions regarding this or other medical issues discussed on this site must consult their physician for further information and treatment.

Personal knowledge and experience
Choi Y, Kraft N, Zimmerman B. Fructose intolerance in IBS and utility of fructose-restricted diet. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2003, 42: 233-238


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