What is IBS?

Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a condition that affects the nerves and muscles of the bowel. The intestine does not work the way it is supposed to. IBS affects up to 15% of the United States population. Typical symptoms of the condition include constipation, diarrhea, cramping, and abdominal pain. The level of discomfort may vary day to day.

Caffeinated drinks, like coffee, can trigger IBS.
Caffeinated drinks, like coffee, can trigger IBS.

The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not known, but there are several possibilities. Because there are no visible changes in the intestines, such as tumors, infections, or deformities, some researchers feel that the problem may lay be neurological, a problem with the nerves leading from the bowels into the brain, or even with the brain itself. IBS may also be an immune disorder, where the body attacks itself by mistake. It may be triggered by a severe bout of the stomach flu, or other intestinal disease.

Broccoli and cabbage may trigger IBS in some individuals.
Broccoli and cabbage may trigger IBS in some individuals.

There are several things that may set off an episode. Food, especially spicy foods, may trigger an episode, as can gas trapped in the intestine. Stress and hormonal changes may cause an episode, as well. Some medications may temporarily worsen the intensity of the disorder. Most sufferers experience either constipation or regular diarrhea, although some have alternating spells of both. Almost constant stomach cramping is also very common. Other common symptoms include mucus in the stools, bloating, and an overly sensitive stomach.

Bloating can be a symptom of IBS.
Bloating can be a symptom of IBS.

Treatments for IBS vary from person to person. There are some medicines available that may provide relief from some of the symptoms. Changes in diet are the most commonly advised treatment. By avoiding trigger foods, like broccoli and cabbage, or foods with a lot of caffeine or sugar, it is possible to lessen the intensity of symptoms. Limiting fatty foods may also help.

Regular exercise, such as swimming or running, may help to regulate the bowels, as well as reduce stress. Other relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, or progressive breathing, can reduce the occurrence of episodes. Psychotherapy may also help, if the level of stress a person is experiencing cannot be reduced in other ways.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition. By working closely with a doctor, it is possible to have some relief from the symptoms or even experience fewer episodes. Being informed, knowing personal triggers, and getting support are all ways of managing the disorder. It is possible to live well, despite an IBS diagnosis.

Some IBS sufferers experience bouts of diarrhea.
Some IBS sufferers experience bouts of diarrhea.
Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Margo has a varied academic background, which has involved everything from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education. These wide-ranging interests make her an ideal wiseGEEK writer, as she always enjoys becoming an expert on new and unfamiliar topics.

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Discussion Comments

anon204131

Laxatives would help with the diarrhea and loperamide would help with constipation. But it is important to treat the spastic colon too. I would check out this product called donnatal. Their website says it's used to treat the symptoms of IBS, including the spasms in the colon.

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