Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
195 Little Albany Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08903-2681
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a chronic condition affecting your large intestine.
Your large intestine, also known as your colon, includes the cecum, ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, sigmoid colon, rectum and anal canal.
The muscular wall of your colon contracts in a rhythmic fashion, called peristalsis, to move the intestinal contents toward your rectum.
As it contracts, your colon absorbs water and nutrients from partially digested food moving through it.
Waste material, called stool, is stored in the rectum until it is expelled through the anus as a bowel movement.
With IBS, the muscular contractions of your colon are abnormal.
In some cases, the contractions may cause food to move too quickly through your colon.
As a result, your colon does not have enough time to absorb most of the water from your food.
This condition leads to a watery stool and diarrhea. In other cases, the contractions may cause food to move too slowly.
As a result, your colon absorbs too much water from your food. This condition leads to a hardened stool and constipation.
It is unclear why your colon contracts abnormally.
However, if you have IBS, your colon may be more sensitive to certain factors, such as stress, that seem not to affect most people.
Other symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, gas, and cramping.
You can manage your IBS symptoms through a combination of dietary habit changes, stress management, and medications.
Eating food high in fiber creates softer, bulkier stools, which may prevent spastic colon contractions.
Fiber also helps relieve constipation. Stress management therapies, such as hypnotherapy and yoga, may help relieve your symptoms.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to help manage your symptoms, such as anti-constipation drugs to help regulate your bowel movements,
antispasmodic drugs to minimize muscle spasms and reduce pain, or sedatives and antidepressants to relieve anxiety and elevate your mood.