Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects the normal functions of the intestines, causing recurrent abdominal pain and discomfort, changes in bowel function, diarrhea and constipation. People with IBS have colons that are more sensitive and react to things that might not bother other people, such as stress, large meals, gas, medicines, certain foods, caffeine and alcohol.
IBS occurs in an estimated one in five Americans, and is more prevalent among women. It usually develops in late adolescence or early adulthood around age 20 and rarely appears for the first time after the age of 50.
Common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) include:
Some patients with IBS experience alternating diarrhea and constipation. Mucus also may be present around or within the stool.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) shares many of the same symptoms with other gastrointestinal disorders. If you think you have IBS, you should visit your doctor.
There is no particular diagnostic test for IBS. The condition is diagnosed based on its symptoms and by ruling out other diseases. Typically your doctor will begin by asking about your medical history and your current symptoms. In addition, he or she will perform a physical evaluation. Diagnostic tests may be used to rule out other disorders. These can include stool or blood tests, X-rays, endoscopy and colonoscopy.
Although there is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), there are many options available for treating and eliminating its symptoms.
Because stress and feeling mentally or emotionally tense, troubled, angry or overwhelmed can stimulate intestinal spasms in people with IBS, your doctor may suggest relaxation techniques, such as yoga, exercise and meditation. Tranquilizers and anti-depressants also may relieve symptoms. In addition, a healthy diet that includes lots of water, fiber and small meals may reduce flare-ups.
Fiber supplements or occasional laxatives may help with constipation, while medicines to decrease diarrhea and control intestinal muscle spasms may help reduce abdominal pain.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.