The Good News—Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Is Treatable

What is IBS?

What Causes IBS?

Diagnosis

Treatment

What Is IBS?

IBS, also known as a spastic colon, mucous colitis, spastic colitis, nervous stomach, or irritable colon, is one of the most common disorders that our physicians see and affects as many as 20 percent of the adult population.

It occurs more often in women than in men, and it begins before the age of 35 in about 50 percent of people. For some people, IBS can significantly alter lifestyle – disrupting or restricting personal and professional activities – as a result of the direct discomfort of IBS or fear of being too far away from a bathroom.

The symptoms of IBS vary from person to person but can generally include abdominal pain or cramping, a bloated feeling, flatulence, diarrhea and/or constipation, and mucus in the stool. Bleeding, fever, weight loss, and persistent severe pain are not symptoms of IBS and may indicate other problems that require diagnosis.

What Causes IBS?

There is no known, specific cause for IBS. One theory is that people who suffer from IBS have a colon (large bowel) that is particularly sensitive and reactive to certain foods and stress. The immune system, which fights infection, may also be involved.

  • Normal motility, or movement, may not be present in a colon of a person who has IBS. It may be spasmodic or even stop working temporarily.
  • The lining of the colon, called the epithelium, which is affected by the immune and nervous systems, regulates the flow of fluids in and out of the colon. In a person with IBS, the regulation of fluids may be compromised.
  • IBS may cause a person’s colon to respond strongly to stimuli such as certain foods or stress that would not bother other people. Large meals, medicines, and foods such as wheat, rye, barley, chocolate, dairy products and caffeinated beverages, including sodas can all be associated with a worsening of IBS symptoms.

Diagnosis

IBS is generally diagnosed on the basis of a complete medical history that includes a careful description and a physical examination.

There is no specific test for IBS, although diagnostic tests may be performed to rule out other diseases. These tests may include stool sample testing, blood tests, x-rays, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.

If your test results are negative for other disease, the doctor may diagnose IBS based on your symptoms, including how often you have had abdominal pain or discomfort during the past year, when the pain starts and stops in relation to bowel function, and how your bowel frequency and stool consistency have changed.

Treatment

No cure has been found for IBS, but many options are available to treat the symptoms.

These options include fiber supplements or laxatives for constipation or medicines to decrease diarrhea. Antispasmodic medication, which helps to control colon muscle spasms and reduce abdominal pain, can be prescribed in some cases. In addition, there are specific IBS prescription medications available for those who suffer with severe symptoms that cannot be controlled by other means.