What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a condition that brings about cramping and abdominal pain and some fluctuations in bowel movements, among other symptoms. It is not like the inflammatory bowel disease or IBD, which encompasses ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Unlike the latter, IBS does not involve abnormal bowel structure.


It is still unclear as to why patients acquire IBS. At times, it happens after the intestines have undergone an infection. This is known as post infectious IBS. But there can also be some other triggering factors.

The intestine is linked to the brain, so, signals travel between the two organs. These signals can influence the function of the bowel and the symptoms. The nerves may be highly active when there is stress, turning the intestines more sensitive and making them contract or squeeze more.

IBS can affect persons of any age, but it usually begins during the teenage years or during early adulthood. It occurs two times more in women than in men.

Around 1 in every 6 people in the United States manifests symptoms of IBS. The most widespread intestinal condition, it causes patients to be advised to seek a gastroenterologist, otherwise known as a gastroenterologist.


Symptoms can vary. Others may suffer mild symptoms, while others might suffer from severe ones. Usually, people only experience mild symptoms. The symptoms vary for each individual.

The predominant symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, bloating (at least about 3 days in a month for the past 3 months), and gas. Usually, the pain as well as the other symptoms will:

  • Decreased and be gone once bowel movement has occurred
  • Happens when a change happens in the frequency of your bowel movements

Persons who are experiencing IBS may shift between episodes of diarrhea and constipation, or usually have either of the two. Both of these conditions predispose the person to irregularly bowel movements and they may find it causing a lot of discomfort. For some individuals, the symptoms could get worse for a couple of weeks or maybe even a month, then it could go down for some time while for some people, the symptoms might not go away at all. Aside from that, those who have IBS might also have reduced appetite.


Treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms. Changes can be done in the person’s lifestyle which could help in certain IBS cases. For instance, adding regular exercise and aiming to get better sleep habits could help lower anxiety and help alleviate the bowel symptoms.

Dietary changes also are found to be helpful but no exact diet can be suggested for a person with IBS since the condition varies for each individual. However, the following could be helpful:

  • Reduce intake of coffee, sodas, or tea since these can stimulate the intestines
  • Avoid consuming large meals
  • Add more fiber in the diet as this could help boost constipation, however it could worsen the bloating

Over-the-counter medications can be discussed with your doctor. There is no single medication that will be effective for everyone. Among the medications that might be prescribed by your doctor include:

  • Anticholinergic medications – to manage muscle spasms of the intestines
  • Bisacodyl – for constipation
  • Loperamide – for diarrhea
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (in low doses) – for relief of intestinal pain
  • Lubiprostone – for constipation
  • Rifaximin – antibiotic

Symptoms are usually relieved with treatment. IBS does not result in lifelong injury to the intestines, nor does it lead to any serious conditions like cancer.


Image courtesy of cancerhealth.co


Daisy Jane Antipuesto RN MN

Currently a Nursing Local Board Examination Reviewer. Subjects handled are Pediatric, Obstetric and Psychiatric Nursing. Previous work experiences include: Clinical instructor/lecturer, clinical coordinator (Level II), caregiver instructor/lecturer, NC2 examination reviewer and staff/clinic nurse. Areas of specialization: Emergency room, Orthopedic Ward and Delivery Room. Also an IELTS passer.

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