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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects your large intestine, or colon. Muscles in your intestine contract and relax to move food from your stomach through your intestinal tract. In people with irritable bowel syndrome, the contractions may be stronger and last longer than normal forcing food through your intestines more quickly, causing gas, bloating and diarrhea.


Irritable bowel syndrome is very common. One in five Americans have symptoms of IBS; however their symptoms may vary greatly. Irritable bowel syndrome causes abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. Although IBS can be disruptive and painful, it doesn’t cause permanent damage or put you at greater risk to develop more serious diseases like cancer.

Although IBS is typically a chronic condition, there will be periods of time when the symptoms improve or disappear and times when they worsen.

The most common symptoms of IBS are:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Mucus in the stool

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not clear. It occurs more often in women than in men, and it begins before the age of 35 in about 50 percent of people.

Recent research suggests that the intestinal lining of people with IBS is particularly sensitive and reactive to certain foods and stress. The immune system or chemical imbalances may also play a role.

Abnormal serotonin levels can disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestine and cause increased sensitivity to stimuli such as food and stress. Bacterial infection in the intestinal tract can sometimes lead to the development of IBS.

Risk factors that can increase your symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include:

  • Eating large meals
  • Consuming foods or beverages that cause gas
  • Medicines
  • Wheat, rye, barley, chocolate, milk products, or alcohol
  • Caffeine
  •  Stress, conflict, or emotional upsets

Diagnostic Tests

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can occur with other more serious diseases. Your doctor will start with a medical history, do a physical examination, and perform other tests to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome and rule out more serious conditions or diseases.

Your doctor may also perform additional tests to aid in diagnosis including:

  • Stool samples to rule out other problems including absorption issues
  • Colonoscopy to view the entire colon.
  • Sigmoidoscopy to view the sigmoid colon
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan to give your doctor a clearer picture of your intestine
  • Lactose intolerance tests
  • Blood tests

These tests will help your recommend a treatment plan to relieve your symptoms as well as rule out other colon conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

Treatment and Procedures

There is no known cure for irritable bowel syndrome. In most cases, the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can be lessened by managing your diet, lifestyle, and stress.

If your symptoms are severe or disabling, preventing you from leading a normal, productive life, your doctor may recommend the following treatments:

  • Fiber supplements to help control constipation.
  • Anti-diarrheal medications
  • Anticholinergic medications to relieve painful bowel spasms
  • Antidepressant medications including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors that help balance your serotonin levels and other medications to lessen stress
  • Counseling to help alleviate stress-related symptoms

Your health is our greatest concern. Please contact the Center for Colon & Rectal Surgery at 407.303.2615for a private consultation today.