What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by chronic abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Although it is not a life-threatening disease and doesn’t damage the colon, IBS can cause a person to experience a lot of distress and discomfort. It is unclear what causes someone to develop irritable bowel syndrome. However, it has been found that person is more likely to develop IBS after recovering from an infection or experiencing a stressful life event.

Approximately 1 out of 6 people in the United States have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Worldwide, it is believed 1 out of 10 people suffer from the disease. It is difficult to obtain exact statistics on its prevalence because many cases (5 out of 10) go unreported. IBS also has symptoms that are similar to other serious conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease, so a percentage of cases may be misdiagnosed.

Although the disease can affect anyone at any age, the disease is more likely to onset during adolescence and early adulthood. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with IBS.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Each person’s physiology is different. Therefore, the type and severity of symptoms will vary. The most common symptoms of IBS are a feeling of fullness, bloating, abdominal pain, and gas that typically decreases or stops after a bowel movement. These symptoms must occur at least three days per month over the previous three months to be diagnosed as IBS. People with irritable bowel syndrome may alternate between experiencing constipation and diarrhea, or they may have more episodes of one or the other.

Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

For the most part, a qualified medical professional can diagnose IBS based on the patient’s reported symptoms. However, the doctor may rule out lactase deficiency as the cause by putting the patient on a lactose-free diet for two weeks. Because irritable bowel syndrome shares symptoms with other more serious diseases, the doctor will usually perform tests to rule them out.

Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome

There is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome. Treatment of the disease focuses on relieving the symptoms of the disease. The most common treatment prescribed is dietary changes. Eliminating foods that stimulate the intestines, like caffeine, eating smaller meals, taking probiotics and increasing fiber intake may alleviate most or all of the symptoms. Exercise can also help reduce IBS symptoms.

If symptoms are severe or bothersome enough, the doctor may prescribe medication. Bisacodyl and loperamide are frequently prescribed to treat constipation and diarrhea respectively. People with IBS report feeling anxiety and depression, so an anti-anxiety medication or antidepressant may be prescribed to relive symptoms of those conditions. Be aware, though, that many prescription drugs can cause side effects that are as uncomfortable as or even more harmful than the disease itself.

Although irritable bowel syndrome is a lifelong condition that requires long-term treatment, it is possible to live a normal life with this disease.

While there is only one FDA-approved medication the may be used to treat IBS, it generally only prescribed for specific situations. However, there are several popular over-the-counter options that may be able to help you manage this disease. These medications are made from natural ingredients and have no side effects.