Get The Facts On IBS
What is IBS?
IBS is also known as spastic colon, irritable colon, mucous colitis, and spastic colitis. It is a separate condition from inflammatory bowel disease and isn’t related to other bowel conditions. IBS is a group of intestinal symptoms that typically occur together. The symptoms vary in severity and duration from person to person. However, they last at least three months for at least three days per month.
IBS can cause intestinal damage in some cases. However, that is not common.
IBS doesn’t increase your risk of gastrointestinal cancers, but it can still have a significant effect on your life. Learn more about the specific ways IBS can affect your bowels.
The symptoms of IBS typically include:
- abdominal pain
- bloating and gas
It’s not uncommon for people with IBS to have episodes of both constipation and diarrhea. Symptoms such as bloating and gas typically go away after you have a bowel movement.
Symptoms of IBS aren’t always persistent. They can resolve, only to come back. However, some people do have continuous symptoms. Learn more about the symptoms of IBS.
Symptoms of IBS in women
Women may tend to have symptoms around the time of menstruation, or they may have more symptoms during this time. Menopausal women have fewer symptoms than women who are still menstruating. Some women have also reported that certain symptoms increase during pregnancy. Learn more about the nature of IBS symptoms in women.
Symptoms of IBS in men
Symptoms of IBS in men are the same as the symptoms in women. However, a lot fewer men report their symptoms and seek treatment. Learn more about how the symptoms of IBS can affect men.
IBS pain may feel like cramping. With this cramping, you will also have at least two of the following experiences:
- some relief of pain after a bowel movement
- a change in how often you have a bowel movement
- changes in the way your stools look
Your doctor may be able to diagnose IBS based on your symptoms. They may also take one or more of the following steps to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms:
- have you adopt a certain diet or cut out specific food groups for a period to rule out any food allergies
- have a stool sample examined to rule out infection
- have blood tests done to check for anemia and rule out celiac disease
- perform a colonoscopy
A colonoscopy is typically only done if your doctor suspects that your symptoms are being caused by colitis, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease), or cancer.
There is no cure for IBS. Treatment is aimed at symptom relief. Initially, your doctor may have you make certain lifestyle changes. These “home remedies” are typically suggested before the use of medication. Learn more about the different types of IBS treatment.
Certain home remedies or lifestyle changes may help to relieve your IBS symptoms without the use of medication. Examples of these lifestyle changes include:
- participating in regular physical exercise
- cutting back on caffeinated beverages that stimulate the intestines
- eating smaller meals
- minimizing stress (talk therapy may help)
- taking probiotics (“good” bacteria normally found in the intestines) to help relieve gas and bloating
- avoiding deep-fried or spicy foods
Foods to avoid with IBS
Managing your diet when you have IBS may take a little extra time but is often worth the effort. Modifying amounts or eliminating certain foods such as dairy, fried foods, indigestible sugars, and beans may help to reduce different symptoms. For some people, adding spices and herbs such as ginger, peppermint, and chamomile has helped to reduce some IBS symptoms. Learn more about how certain foods interact with IBS symptoms.
If your symptoms do not improve through home remedies, such as lifestyle or dietary changes, your doctor may suggest the use of medications. Different people can respond
differently to the same medication, so you may need to work with your doctor to find the right medication for you.
As with all medication, when considering new medication, it’s important to tell your doctor what you are already taking, including herbal remedies and over-the-counter medications. This will help your doctor avoid any medication that could interact with what you are already taking.
Some drugs are used to treat all symptoms of IBS, while other drugs are focused on specific symptoms. Drugs that are used include medications to control muscle spasms, anti-constipation drugs, tricyclic antidepressants to ease pain, and antibiotics. If your main IBS symptom is constipation, linaclotide and lubiprostone are two drugs that are recommended by the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG). Read this Healthline article to find more detailed information about the medication used to treat IBS.
What causes IBS?
Although there are many ways to treat IBS, the exact cause of IBS is unknown. Possible causes include an overly sensitive colon or immune system. Postinfectious IBS is caused by a previous bacterial infection in the gastrointestinal tract. The varied possible causes make IBS difficult to prevent.
The physical processes involved in IBS can also vary, but may consist of:
- slowed or spastic movements of the colon, causing painful cramping
- abnormal serotonin levels in the colon, affecting motility and bowel movements
- mild celiac disease that damages the intestines, causing IBS symptoms