What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome—or IBS—affects between 25 and 45 million Americans, most of which are women. IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder characterized by symptoms affecting the gut and bowel. IBS symptoms include stomach discomfort and trouble with bowel habits—either going to the bathroom more often than normal or not enough, as well as experiencing a different type of stool. While IBS is not a life-threatening condition, it is a chronic condition that can affect how many people lead their lives.

Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

While experts aren’t certain of the cause of IBS, studies suggest that the colon becomes hypersensitive and overreacts to normal stimuli. The bowl muscles spasm and contract, which can cause diarrhea or constipation. Others believe IBS occurs when bowel muscles fail to contract properly, affecting the movement of stool.

Symptoms and Triggers of IBS
People with IBS experience chronic symptoms including:

  • Gas and bloating

  • Hard or loose stool

  • Distended stomach

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Cramps or stomach pains

Certain behaviors and habits can trigger or augment symptoms. Stress can make symptoms worse. Anxiety has also been shown to have worsening effects on people with IBS. Some people with IBS may also experience urinary symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment of IBS
Common Treatment Options for Irritable Bowel Syndrome 

While there aren’t currently definitive lab tests to diagnose IBS, your doctor or colorectal specialist will see if your symptoms match the definition of the disease and work to rule out other conditions such as: food allergies or intolerances, side effects of medications, infection, pancreatitis, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Your doctor may perform a few diagnostic tests to determine if you have IBS, including:

  • Colonoscopy

  • Endoscopy

  • X-rays

  • Stool tests

  • Blood tests to look for anemia or thyroid problems

  • Food allergy tests


IBS treatment options vary, depending on the patient and the severity of the condition, yet no single treatment works for everyone. Patients should work together with their doctor to determine the right treatment plan to manage your symptoms. Learning what triggers your specific IBS symptoms, including foods, medicines, alcohol, stress, etc.

Those suffering from IBS can make healthy lifestyle changes to lessen the effects of IBS. Here are some lifestyle changes you can make if you’ve been diagnosed with IBS:

  • Limit dairy

  • Don’t smoke

  • Learn to manage stress

  • Keep a record of the foods you eat.

  • Avoid caffeine

  • Add fiber to your diet

  • Hydrate properly

  • Get proper exercise


Making healthy lifestyle changes won’t reverse IBS, but you can reduce the symptoms and effects of the condition.