According to the National Institutes of Health, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder characterized most commonly by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
IBS causes a great deal of discomfort and distress, but most people can control their symptoms with diet, stress management, and prescribed medications. For some, however, IBS can be disabling. They may be unable to work, attend social events, or even travel short distances.
As many as one in five Americans have symptoms of IBS, making it one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. It occurs more often in women than in men, and it begins before the age of 35 in about 50 percent of people.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
Abdominal pain, bloating, and discomfort are the main symptoms of IBS. However, symptoms can vary from person to person.
Some people may experience constipation or diarrhea.
Sometimes people find that their symptoms subside for a few months and then return, while others report a constant worsening of symptoms over time.
What causes IBS?
Researchers have yet to discover any specific cause for IBS. One theory is that people who suffer from IBS have a colon that is particularly sensitive and reactive to certain foods and stress. The immune system, which fights infection, may also be involved.
How is IBS diagnosed?
IBS is generally diagnosed on the basis of a complete medical history that includes a careful description of symptoms and a physical examination.
No specific test for IBS exists, although diagnostic tests may be performed to rule out other problems. These tests may include stool sample testing, blood tests, and x-rays. Typically, a doctor will perform a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, which allows the doctor to look inside the colon by inserting a small, flexible tube with a camera on the end of it through the anus. The camera then transfers the images of the colon onto a large screen for the doctor to see better.
If test results are negative, the doctor may diagnose IBS based on symptoms, including how often a person has had abdominal pain or discomfort during the past year, when the pain starts and stops in relation to bowel function, and how bowel frequency and stool consistency have changed. Many doctors refer to a list of specific symptoms that must be present to make a diagnosis of IBS.
- Abdominal pain or discomfort for at least 12 weeks out of the previous 12 months. These 12 weeks do not have to be consecutive.
- The abdominal pain or discomfort has two of the following three features:
– It is relieved by having a bowel movement.
– When it starts, a change occurs in how often a person has a bowel movement.
– When it starts, a change occurs in the form of the stool or the way it looks.
- Certain symptoms must also be present, such as
– a change in frequency of bowel movements
– a change in appearance of bowel movements
– feelings of uncontrollable urgency to have a bowel movement
– difficulty or inability to pass stool
– mucus in the stool
- Bleeding, fever, weight loss, and persistent severe pain are not symptoms of IBS and may indicate other problems such as inflammation or, rarely, cancer.