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).
IBS is more common in women. It typically begins in young adulthood.
These factors may increase your chance of developing IBS:
Symptoms usually come and go, and range from mild to severe. They include:
These factors may worsen your symptoms:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. 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 bodily fluids and waste products may be tested. This can be done with:
Your body structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
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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 medications.
There are no current guidelines for preventing IBS because the cause is unknown.
American College of Gastroenterology
American Gastroenterological Association
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
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Last reviewed December 2015 by Daus Mahnke, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014