Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common condition, affecting up to 10% of all Americans. The exact cause is not known and it likely is due to multiple factors. The most common theory is that it is due to an abnormal function of the GI tract, when the communication between the brain and gut is out of order. This can result in diarrhea, constipation and a variety of other symptoms.

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Symptoms and Diagnosis

Quick Facts

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is not related to IBD, as it is a much less serious problem wherein the digestive system looks normal, but doesn’t function as it should.

IBS affects up to 55 million Americans, mostly women.

IBS causes are unknown.

The symptoms of IBS include

  • bloating,
  • abdominal pain (which often improves after a bowel movement),
  • cramps (usually in the lower abdomen),
  • irregular stools which can alternate with constipation or diarrhea,
  • and mucus in the stool.

For a diagnosis of IBS, patients should not have any signs of bleeding, weight loss, or any acute changes in their bowel habits. (Otherwise more serious conditions will need to be ruled out.) All patients with symptoms of IBS should first undergo a complete history and physical exam. Routine lab tests should be conducted to assess for anemia, signs of infection or inflammation, thyroid problems, and malabsorption. Other tests may include an upper endoscopy, colonoscopy, imaging, or check for bacterial overgrowth.

Prevention & Treatment

Treatment of IBS depends on what the predominant symptom is. Antispasm medications can be used to relax the intestine and colon of patients with diarrhea and abdominal pain. Stress reduction is always encouraged. And dietary changes are sometimes helpful because certain foods can exacerbate the symptoms. Since these vary from patient to patient, it may help to keep a “food diary” and eliminate certain foods one-by-one, with the most common culprits being dairy, wheat/gluten, soy products, fish, nuts, and eggs.

Other patients may have an imbalance of bacteria in their intestines. Probiotics contain high concentrations of specific bacteria designed to reconstitute the gut flora for those patients with bloating and diarrhea. Or a trial of antibiotics may be helpful by eliminating unnecessary bacteria that have migrated into the small intestine. A high fiber diet or fiber supplements can be considered for those IBS patients with constipation. Still others have hypersensitive nerves in the abdomen, leading to a decreased threshold to pain. Certain antidepressants can help to alleviate this. And some studies suggest that regular exercise may reduce the frequency and severity of IBS symptoms.

As mentioned above, diet plays a crucial link in maximizing the health plan Dr. Singh and you are establishing.

Learn more about the specific diet associated with this condition. Also, a low FODMAP diet can sometimes help with gas and bloating associated with irritable bowel syndrome.