Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Overview

Irritable bowel syndrome – also called IBS – is a common digestive disorder. This uncomfortable digestive problem affects the large intestine causing cramping, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. More likely to affect women, irritable bowel syndrome may be triggered by fluctuating hormones, dietary choices and stress. Family history also plays a role. Fortunately, symptoms can usually be managed through lifestyle changes and, unlike other digestive disorders, the condition causes no damage to the large intestine.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are abdominal pain and cramping that are relieved by a bowel movement, bloating, frequent gas and diarrhea or constipation. There may also be frequent changes in stool consistency, mucus in the stool or changes in the frequency of bowel movements. These symptoms can be highly embarrassing and uncomfortable. In order to diagnose IBS, patients should exhibit two or more of these symptoms for at least three months of the past year.

There is no specific medical test that can indicate the presence of IBS. In order to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome, doctors interview a patient about digestive symptoms experienced over the previous year. If several of the symptoms match IBS, and no evidence of another digestive disorder – such as Crohn’s disease – is found, doctors diagnose the problem is irritable bowel syndrome. Doctors may perform a colonoscopy, lactose intolerance test, blood tests or take stool samples to rule out any underlying digestive issues.

Causes

What, specifically, causes irritable bowel syndrome is unknown, but doctors do know that in many cases there are triggers. For some people foods containing lactose, caffeine or high fat content can cause IBS symptoms. For others, periods of high stress cause digestive changes that set off symptoms. The disorder also seems to have a genetic link, as parents with irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to have children affected by IBS. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment information . . .

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