Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)
    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Dr. Anand received MBBS degree from Medical College Amritsar, University of Punjab. He completed his Internal Medicine residency at the Postgraduate Institute of medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India. He was trained in the field of Gastroenterology and obtained the DPhil degree. Dr. Anand is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology.

  • Medical Reviewer: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Read about IBS-D symptoms and signs.

IBS-D (IBS with Diarrhea) Symptoms and Signs

IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) affects each person differently. The hallmark of IBS in adults and children is abdominal discomfort or pain. Those who mostly have diarrhea as a symptom are considered to have IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D), with signs and symptoms that include:

  • Sudden urges to have bowel movements
  • Loose stools
  • Frequent stools
  • Gas
  • The feeling of being unable to completely empty the bowels

Quick GuideIBS - Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Symptoms, Diet, Treatment

IBS - Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Symptoms, Diet, Treatment

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) definition and facts

  • Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a type of gastrointestinal disorder. IBS symptoms and signs include:
  • The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown and may be due to multiple factors.
  • There are different forms of this functional disease. IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) is characterized by chronic or recurrent diarrhea, while IBS with constipation (IBS-C) is characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort associated with constipation. Some people experience alternating symptoms of diarrhea or constipation.
  • A diagnosis of IBS is based on the duration (at least six months) and frequency of signs and symptoms (at least three times a month).
  • There is no known cure for this condition, but there are many treatment options to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Treatment includes dietary modifications, lifestyle changes, and prescription medications.
  • There is no specific diet for IBS, and different people react differently to different foods. It is important for people with IBS to identify foods that trigger their symptoms so they can avoid them. In general, many people with the condition find it helpful to increase dietary fiber, drink plenty of water, avoid soda, and eat smaller meals.
  • It is best to talk to a primary-care physician or a gastroenterologist about the best way to manage IBS symptoms and signs.

What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by the presence of a cluster of symptoms and signs in adults or children that include cramping, abdominal pain, increased gas, altered bowel habits, food intolerance, and bloating (distention).

Irritable bowel syndrome is a "functional" disorder. This term refers to the changes in the functioning of the digestive system that results in the collection of symptoms referred to as IBS, meaning that it is a problem with the movement (motility) rather than any damage to the tissues of the digestive system.

In the past, irritable bowel syndrome was also called spastic colon or bowel, functional bowel disease, mucous colitis, or nervous colon.

Are IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (inflammatory bowel syndrome) the same disease?

While both irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease can have similar symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and urgent bowel movements; however, IBS is not the same as IBD.

  • IBD is a group of separate diseases that includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, and is a more severe condition.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome is considered a functional gastrointestinal disorder because there is abnormal bowel function. IBS is a group of symptoms and not a disease in itself, which is why it’s called a ‘syndrome,’ and it is considered less serious than IBD.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome does not cause inflammation like inflammatory bowel disease, and it does not result in permanent damage to the intestines, intestinal bleeding, rectal bleeding, ulcers, or the harmful complications that are often seen with IBD.

What are the causes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome  is unknown. It is believed to be due to a number of factors, including alteration in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract motility, abnormal nervous system signals, increased sensitivity to pain, and food intolerances. The following are risk factors thought to cause IBS:

  • Abnormal movements of the colon and small intestines (too fast or slow, or too strong)
  • Hypersensitivity to pain from a full bowel or gas
  • Food sensitivities, possibly caused by poor absorption of sugars or acids in food
  • Gastroenteritis ("stomach flu" or "stomach bug"), a viral or bacterial infection of the stomach and intestines, may trigger IBS symptoms
  • Psychological conditions such as anxiety or depression are observed in many people with IBS, though these conditions have not been found to be a direct cause of IBS.
  • Reproductive hormones or neurotransmitters may be off-balance in people with IBS.
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Genetics is thought to be a possible cause of IBS, but so far this hereditary link has not been proven.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/27/2017

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