Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the intestines. IBS does not cause inflammation and does not lead to a more serious condition.
The cause is unknown. With IBS, the muscles in the colon do not work normally and may spasm. If you have IBS, your colon may be more sensitive, reacting strongly to food and medication. Food allergies and certain bacteria may add to the symptoms. IBS may also occur after having the stomach flu (called gastroenteritis).
These factors increase your chance of developing IBS:
Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors.
Symptoms usually come and go, and range from mild to severe. They include:
These factors may worsen your symptoms:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. In many cases, a diagnosis can be made based on this. Since there is no diagnostic test for IBS, doctors have created criteria for making a diagnosis.
Your doctor may order the following tests to rule out other conditions:
Your doctor may also screen you for celiac disease, which is more common in people with IBS.
There is no cure for IBS. Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms.
The following changes to your diet may help control symptoms:
Participating in a regular exercise program can help improve bowel function and other IBS symptoms. If you would like to start exercising, check with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough.
Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce stress, such as:
Learn as much as you can about IBS and ways that you can reduce your symptoms. You may also find it helpful to join a support group.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend:
In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you take a combination of medicines.
American College of Gastroenterology
American Gastroenterological Association
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Association
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
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Last reviewed December 2013 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.