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What is IBS?

Margo Upson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a condition that affects the nerves and muscles of the bowel. The intestine does not work the way it is supposed to. IBS affects up to 15% of the United States population. Typical symptoms of the condition include constipation, diarrhea, cramping, and abdominal pain. The level of discomfort may vary day to day.

The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not known, but there are several possibilities. Because there are no visible changes in the intestines, such as tumors, infections, or deformities, some researchers feel that the problem may lay be neurological, a problem with the nerves leading from the bowels into the brain, or even with the brain itself. IBS may also be an immune disorder, where the body attacks itself by mistake. It may be triggered by a severe bout of the stomach flu, or other intestinal disease.

There are several things that may set off an episode. Food, especially spicy foods, may trigger an episode, as can gas trapped in the intestine. Stress and hormonal changes may cause an episode, as well. Some medications may temporarily worsen the intensity of the disorder. Most sufferers experience either constipation or regular diarrhea, although some have alternating spells of both. Almost constant stomach cramping is also very common. Other common symptoms include mucus in the stools, bloating, and an overly sensitive stomach.

Treatments for IBS vary from person to person. There are some medicines available that may provide relief from some of the symptoms. Changes in diet are the most commonly advised treatment. By avoiding trigger foods, like broccoli and cabbage, or foods with a lot of caffeine or sugar, it is possible to lessen the intensity of symptoms. Limiting fatty foods may also help.

Regular exercise, such as swimming or running, may help to regulate the bowels, as well as reduce stress. Other relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, or progressive breathing, can reduce the occurrence of episodes. Psychotherapy may also help, if the level of stress a person is experiencing cannot be reduced in other ways.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition. By working closely with a doctor, it is possible to have some relief from the symptoms or even experience fewer episodes. Being informed, knowing personal triggers, and getting support are all ways of managing the disorder. It is possible to live well, despite an IBS diagnosis.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margo Upson
By Margo Upson
With a vast academic background that has ranged from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education, Margo Upson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her role as a The Health Board writer. Her wide-ranging interests and skill at diving into new topics make her articles informative, engaging, and valuable to readers seeking to expand their knowledge.
Discussion Comments
By anon204131 — On Aug 08, 2011

Laxatives would help with the diarrhea and loperamide would help with constipation. But it is important to treat the spastic colon too. I would check out this product called donnatal. Their website says it's used to treat the symptoms of IBS, including the spasms in the colon.

Margo Upson
Margo Upson
With a vast academic background that has ranged from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education,...
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