What is irritable bowel syndrome?

IBS is a chronic, long-term gastrointestinal disorder affecting the large and small intestine that causes abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, diarrhea and constipation. While most individuals will not experience severe medical complications, symptoms can be ongoing and uncomfortable.

How is irritable bowel syndrome diagnosed?

There is no definitive test to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome. Dr. Cooley will take your medical history, perform a physical examination, and run diagnostic tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. Diagnostic procedures could include a blood test, stool tests, lactose intolerance test, breath test for bacterial overgrowth, colonoscopy, upper endoscopy, X-ray, or CT scan.

What are the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome?

Signs and symptoms vary between individuals and can often resemble symptoms of disease and conditions and can affect parts of the body outside of the gastrointestinal tract.

Symptoms often get worse after meals, especially after consuming spicy, fatty, or acidic foods and beverages, and can last for several hours or days. Caffeine, alcohol, sugar-free/artificial sweeteners, and dairy products are also known to cause IBS flareups. Key symptoms include abdominal pain associated with irregular bowel habits.

Common symptoms of IBS include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Sensation that bowels are not emptying completely after passing stools
  • Excess gas and bloating
  • Mucus in stool
  • Sudden, urgent need to use the bathroom
  • Swelling and bloating of the abdomen

IBS symptoms affecting areas outside the GI tract include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Headache
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Pelvic pain

How is irritable bowel syndrome treated?

The cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not known. However, it can be easily treated and managed through medication and dietary and lifestyle changes.

Diet modifications include avoiding or reducing the consumption of food and drinks containing caffeine, alcohol, and large quantities of fat, lactose, fructose, sorbitol, and spices. These foods can intensify abdominal pain, cause bloating, gas, diarrhea, and irregular bowel movements. It is encouraged for patients with IBS to have a diet high in fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates.

Recently, the low FODMAP diet has been used successfully to treat IBS patients. This diet is low in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. It is difficult to follow but can be quite effective.

Patients often report more frequent signs and symptoms of IBS during periods of increased stress. There is a strong connection between the nervous system and the gastrointestinal system. Stressful events or situations can cause a flare-up of IBS symptoms, and symptoms can increase for patients diagnosed with anxiety or depression.

Some patients develop IBS after experience a GI infection such as food poisoning.

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is also felt to play a role in irritable bowel syndrome.

Medications like smooth muscle relaxants, antidiarrheal drugs, laxatives, antibiotics, and antidepressants can help relieve the pain and symptoms of IBS.

Alternative therapies, like relaxation exercises, acupuncture, and therapeutic massage, can help heal, manage and alleviate the symptoms of IBS.

Is irritable bowel syndrome serious?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition but is not life-threatening. If you are experiencing frequent, ongoing symptoms of IBS, it’s important to see a gastroenterologist who can help you determine the best course of treatment for your triggers and symptoms. Simple changes to diet, medication, and stress relief can help reduce the frequency and intensity of abdominal pain and gastrointestinal discomfort.

Disclaimer: The information presented on this website is not intended to take the place of your personal physician’s advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Discuss this information with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical condition.

This website is owned and managed by Brian Cooley, MD. Any information, offers, or instruction as written, inferred, or implied is the sole responsibility of Brian Cooley, MD, and does not warrant claim or representation, inherent, or implied of DHAT, its subsidiaries, or employees.