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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder characterized mostly by abdominal pain, constipation, cramping, diarrhea, and bloating. IBS may cause a lot of discomfort or distress but the good news is that is does not cause any permanent damage, nor lead to a more serious intestinal disease. In most cases, symptoms can be controlled with stress management, diet, and prescribed medications. However, IBS can be disabling for others.

As much as 20 percent of the adult population has symptoms of IBS, which makes it one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders. It occurs more often in females than males and begins before age 35 in about half of the people.


The main symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, discomfort, and bloating. Symptoms may vary from person to person.  Some people experience constipation and/or diarrhea. Symptoms may come and go for some people while others report a worsening overtime.


There has yet to be a specific cause of IBS identified. Theories include:

  • People suffering from IBS may have a colon that is sensitive to certain foods and stress.
  • Normal movement in the colon may not exist. It may stop working temporarily or be spasmodic, causing sudden strong muscle contractions.
  • The epithelium, which is the lining that regulates the flow of fluids in and out of the colon, is affected by both the immune and nervous system. In IBS, the epithelium functions properly but contents inside the colon either move too quickly causing it to lose its ability to absorb fluids or the content moves too slow and allows extra fluid to be absorbed. This causes constipation.
  • Recent research has shown that serotonin, which is a chemical that delivers messages from one part of your body to another, is linked with normal GI functioning. Ninety-five percent of your body’s serotonin is located in the GI tract and the other 5 percent is in your brain. People with IBS have diminished receptor activity, which causes abnormal levels of serotonin in the GI tract. Therefore, they experience problems with bowel movement, motility, and have more sensitive pain receptors in their GI tract.
  • IBS may also be caused by a bacterial infection. People who have had gastroenteritis may sometimes develop IBS.

If you think you have IBS, see your doctor. IBS is diagnosed from a complete medical history, description of symptoms, and a physical examination. Diagnostic tests including stool sample testing, blood tests, and x-rays may be performed but there is not an IBS-specific test. Many times, your doctor may choose to perform a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy which allows him or her to look inside your colon.