Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders. It has also been called spastic colitis, mucus colitis or nervous colon syndrome. It is characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, mucous in stools, and irregular bowel habits, including alternating diarrhea and constipation. It tends to be a chronic disorder, and the symptoms can wax and wane over many years (some times for life). Typically, doctors cannot find any abnormalities in these patients despite exhaustive tests of the intestines. While it occasionally can cause troubling symptoms, IBS does not adversely affect longevity or result in organ damage.
Up to fifteen percent of the population may have IBS, although only about twenty percent of this group will seek medical attention. Women are affected twice as often as men. The symptoms of IBS typically occur early in life, and half of the patients have onset of symptoms before they reach 30 years of age.
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