Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a common disorder of the large intestine. Between 25 million and 45 million people in the U.S. suffer from IBS. All age groups are affected including children. More women than men are diagnosed with this disorder. IBS is different from Inflammatory Bowel Disease. It doesn’t cause changes in the bowel tissue or increase one’s risk of developing colon cancer.
A wide range of symptoms are associated with IBS. Not all people will display all symptoms, but some common ones are gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, loss of appetite, and changes in the appearance or texture of the stools. Symptoms are unpredictable and may flare up at any time.
There are four types of IBS:
- IBS with constipation
- IBS with diarrhea
- Mixed type IBS
- Unsubtyped IBS
Doctors do not know exactly what causes IBS, but they suspect it may be a combination of factors. IBS triggers may include food allergies, hormonal changes, bacterial infections, stress, and drug interactions. When a patient complains of common IBS symptoms for at least three months, a physician may order various tests including blood tests, stool tests, x-rays of the colon, lower GI series, colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis.
The doctor may prescribe medications to help with IBS symptoms. Lifestyle changes may also be effective in preventing flare ups. Patients may find it helpful to eat more frequently and consume smaller portions. Avoid eating fried foods, spicy foods, and any foods that may have triggered episodes in the past. Cut down on caffeine and alcohol, as they may stimulate the intestines and cause diarrhea. Increasing dietary fiber may help those suffering from IBS with constipation. Probiotics may help with gas and bloating. Participating in regular exercise and minimizing stress may help with IBS symptoms. Staying hydrated during exercise is also important.
Living with IBS can be challenging. It may be time to consult your medical provider if IBS symptoms interfere with the ability to work, travel, or attend social events.