Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common disorder that involves abnormal contractions or spams of the large intestine (colon). These spasms may speed the passage of stool, causing diarrhea, or slow it down, causing constipation, bloating or cramping.
IBS affects between 25 and 45 million Americans, and twice as many women as men. It’s not exactly clear what causes the condition, though a variety of factors may play a role, from certain foods and family history, to hormonal changes, psychological conditions like stress and depression, certain antibiotics and digestive tract infections. These factors vary from person to person.
Irritable bowel syndrome is not life-threatening, but does require long-term management to keep symptoms at bay.
Take Control of Your IBS Today
As many as one in five adults has irritable bowel syndrome, yet less than one in five seeks medical help—even if it’s affecting how they live their life.
Don’t wait to get the relief you need. The digestive health experts at CHI Health can quickly diagnosis and ease your symptoms, and help you manage your condition with confidence.
Learn more about IBS below, then call one of our clinic locations to make your appointment with a specialist near you. You can also find a skilled gastroenterologist anytime online.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Because there are no structural problems in the intestines with IBS, some people think this means that any symptoms "are all in their head." This simply isn’t true.
The common, and very real, symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal pains or cramps, usually in the lower belly
- Constipation alternating with diarrhea (and vice versa)
- Excess gas
- Harder or looser stools than normal
- Mucus in the stools
Symptoms often occur after a meal, or during stressful times or menstruation, though they may vary widely from day to day, and person to person. Some people have problems off and on for many years, even disappearing entirely, though most have symptoms that keep coming back.
IBS does not cause other serious conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or colon cancer, but it can often resemble other diseases. It’s important to see your doctor if you have a persistent change in bowel habits, or any other signs or symptoms of IBS because these may indicate a more serious condition.
Most of the time, the digestive health specialists at CHI Health can diagnose irritable bowel syndrome from symptoms, and through a complete medical history and exam. In some cases, they may request stool analysis, blood work or other tests which can help rule out other problems, like lactose intolerance or Celiac disease.
Some signs that may suggest a need for additional testing include:
- Abdominal pain, especially if it's not completely relieved by a bowel movement, or occurs at night
- Anemia related to low iron
- Diarrhea that is persistent or awakens you from sleep
- Nausea or recurrent vomiting
- Rectal bleeding
- Weight loss
If you are age 50 or older or have other signs of a potentially more serious condition, we may recommend a colonoscopy at our dedicated Endoscopy Center.
Treatment for IBS
Irritable bowel syndrome is chronic, but there are plenty of ways to keep your condition in check. Based on the types of symptoms you have, and how severe they are, your doctor will work closely with you to identify specific triggers and develop a personalized plan to find long-term relief.
Treatment options may include one or a combination of:
- Dietary changes: It can be helpful to eliminate foods that activate your symptoms, like high-gas foods, gluten and certain types of carbohydrates (FODMAPs), while drinking plenty of water and avoiding caffeine.
- Lifestyle changes: Getting regular exercise and sufficient sleep, practicing stress management techniques and quitting smoking are just some of the adjustments that can help reduce symptoms.
- Medications: If diet and lifestyle adjustments don't provide enough relief, your doctor may prescribe medicines for pain, diarrhea or constipation. These may include anti-depressants if your symptoms are mental health-related.
- Counseling: You may benefit from counseling if you’re suffering with depression or if stress worsens your symptoms.