Key Points about IBS

  • IBS is a large intestine disorder that causes symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
  • While its exact cause is not known, factors that seem to play a role in IBS include abnormal muscle contractions in the intestine, nervous system abnormalities, intestinal inflammation, bacterial or viral infection, and changes in the gut’s microflora, or bacteria.
  • Managing symptoms of IBS long-term requires taking measures to moderate stress and making other ongoing changes to your lifestyle.
  • In some cases, doctors may prescribe medication to manage symptoms.
Common related conditions
Bloody Stool Constipation Diarrhea Celiac Disease Heartburn

Overview

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the large intestine. Symptoms of IBS include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.

Managing IBS symptoms requires making long-term lifestyle changes, such as taking measures to moderate stress. Your doctor can give tests to diagnose IBS and can set up a plan for managing symptoms.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes

While its exact cause is not known, factors that seem to be involved in IBS include:

  • Abnormal muscle contractions in the intestine
  • Nervous system abnormalities
  • Intestinal inflammation
  • Bacterial or viral infection
  • Changes in the gut’s microflora, or bacteria

IBS risk factors

IBS symptoms are more likely to occur in people who:

  • Are young
  • Are female
  • Have family members with IBS
  • Have an existing mental health problem

IBS symptoms

Symptoms of IBS include:

  • Cramping
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Excessive gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Mucus in stool

IBS complications

The chronic constipation or diarrhea that are symptoms of IBS can cause hemorrhoids.

IBS is also associated with:

  • Experiencing a poor quality of life
  • Mood disorders, as the symptoms of IBS can trigger anxiety or depression

IBS diagnosis

When diagnosing IBS, doctors will likely begin with a complete physical examination and a review of your medical history.

Because there is no definitive way to diagnose IBS, doctors will usually try to first rule out other conditions that may be responsible for your symptoms. After ruling out other possible explanations, the following criteria may be used to diagnose IBS:

  • Rome criteria
  • Manning criteria
  • Identifying the type of IBS: constipation-predominant, diarrhea-predominant or mixed

Your doctor may recommend several tests to identify or rule out other explanations of your symptoms besides IBS.

Your doctor may give imaging tests such as:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • X-ray or CT scan

Your doctor may also give laboratory tests, such as:

  • Lactose intolerance tests
  • Breath test for bacterial overgrowth
  • Upper endoscopy
  • Stool tests

IBS treatment

IBS can often be controlled through managing diet, lifestyle, and stress. Some of these changes may include:

  • Avoiding any foods that trigger your symptoms
  • Eating foods high in fiber
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting enough sleep

Your doctor may also advise you to eliminate certain foods from your diet, including:

  • High-gas foods such as raw fruits and certain vegetables, caffeine, alcohol and broccoli and cauliflower
  • Gluten
  • Foods containing certain carbohydrates such as fructose and lactose

In some cases, doctors may prescribe medication to manage symptoms.

When to seek care

Talk to your doctor if you experience:

  • A persistent and dramatic change in bowel habits
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained vomiting
  • Nighttime diarrhea
  • Blood in stool
  • Anemia
  • Difficulty with swallowing
  • Pain that remains after passing gas or stool

Next Steps

Managing symptoms of IBS long-term requires taking measures to moderate stress and making other ongoing changes to your lifestyle. Consult your doctor or dietician to establish a comprehensive management plan.