Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine (colon). Irritable bowel syndrome commonly causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. IBS is a chronic condition that you will need to manage long term.
Even though signs and symptoms are uncomfortable, IBS — unlike ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which are forms of inflammatory bowel disease — doesn’t cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
Only a small number of people with irritable bowel syndrome have severe signs and symptoms. Some people can control their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle and stress. Others will need medication and counseling.
The signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can vary widely from person to person and often resemble those of other diseases. Among the most common are:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- A bloated feeling
- Diarrhea or constipation — sometimes alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea
- Mucus in the stool
- For most people, IBS is a chronic condition, although there will likely be times when the signs and symptoms are worse and times when they improve or even disappear completely.
When to see a doctor:
Although as many as 1 in 5 American adults has signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, fewer than 1 in 5 who have symptoms seek medical help. Yet it’s important to see your doctor if you have a persistent change in bowel habits or if you have any other signs or symptoms of IBS because these may indicate a more serious condition, such as colon cancer.
Symptoms that may indicate a more serious condition or tell your MD stat; even call 911:
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal pain that progresses or occurs at night
- Weight loss
Causes of IBS:
The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has not been determined, although there are several theories. One theory is that IBS may be an immune disorder, or one in which the intestines of the affected person are highly sensitive in responding to stress and bacteria. Certain foods are thought to trigger IBS flare-ups, including dairy products and gluten, which is present in wheat, barley and rye.
The epithelial layer, or lining, of the large intestine controls the amount of fluid in the bowel. In IBS, there appears to be a disruption in the function of fluid absorption. This can result in excessive fluid in the colon, which causes diarrhea and watery stools. Or, if the lining of the colon absorbs too much fluid from the colon contents, the stool may become dry, leading to constipation.