Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, usually chronic (long term), colon condition. It does not cause permanent damage to your colon or increase your risk for colon cancer.

Most often, IBS is a condition that you learn to manage but isn't a serious disease. You might have stomach pain and cramping, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. Lifestyle and diet changes may help you control your IBS.

The exact cause of IBS is not known, but it is related to abnormalities in the digestive system. Abnormalities in the nervous system and how it relates to the digestive system may also play a role.

You Are at Risk for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) if You:

  • Are female
  • Are younger than age 35
  • Have family history of IBS

The symptoms of IBS can be triggered by:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Foods including milk, alcohol, chocolate, fruits, vegetables and carbonated beverages

Symptoms

Symptoms of IBS differ among people and can vary from mild to severe. Symptoms include:

  • Stomach bloating and gas
  • Stomach cramping and pain
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Mucus in your stool

If you have symptoms that worry you, see your doctor to make sure you don't have a more serious problem.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of IBS is a process of ruling out other conditions.

There is a set of guidelines called the Rome criteria used to diagnose IBS and some other gastrointestinal disorders. These criteria help your doctor decide if you have IBS.

To meet the criteria for IBS, you must have stomach pain or discomfort that lasts 12 weeks or longer in total. In addition, you must have two or more of the following symptoms:

  • A straining, feeling of urgency or feeling like your bowels don't completely empty
  • A change in the consistency or frequency of your stools
  • Stomach bloating
  • Mucus in your stool

If you meet these criteria for IBS, your doctor may treat you without other tests. Or your doctor may suggest tests including:

  • Blood tests
  • Fecal occult blood test (stool)
  • Tests to check for lactose intolerance
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy – Your doctor inserts a flexible tube in your anus and views pictures on a monitor to see inside your digestive system
  • Colonoscopy – Your doctor inserts a flexible tube in your anus and views pictures on a monitor to see inside you
  • Capsule endoscopy – You swallow a capsule to get pictures of your digestive tract for your doctor to review
  • Imaging including CT (computed tomography) scans

Treatment

IBS treatment focuses on treating symptoms to improve your quality of life. This includes:

  • Stress management
  • Diet changes, including eliminating foods that cause gas
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Antibiotic medication
  • Fiber supplements
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Anticholinergic medication to relieve bowel spasms
  • Counseling or antidepressant medication
  • IBS-specific medication for severe cases that haven't been relieved by other treatments. This includes lubiprostone for IBS with constipation and alosetron to relax the colon in female patients with severe diarrhea. Both of these drugs have side effects and are intended for severe cases of IBS

Our gastroenterology specialists are experienced in treating every colorectal condition, including IBS.

How to Prevent Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

The cause of IBS is not known, but stress can make it worse. If you have IBS, you may benefit from managing your stress with:

  • Relaxation exercises
  • Deep breathing
  • Biofeedback
  • Counseling

Find an Aurora Health Care GI Specialist