- Pain or cramps in the abdomen often related to the bowel movements
- Changes in the bowel movements which may be diarrhea, constipation, or both occurring alternately depending upon the type of IBS a person has
Other symptoms of inflammatory bowel syndrome include:
- Bloating or distention (a feeling of fullness or swelling in the abdomen)
- Feeling that you have not finished a bowel movement
- Whitish, sticky discharge (mucus) in the stool
- Symptoms of indigestion such as nausea, heartburn, and gas
What is IBS?
IBS or irritable bowel syndrome is a medical condition affecting the large bowel. It is a type of functional bowel or gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. This means that although it causes disturbing symptoms, it does not cause any structural damage to the bowel. Functional GI disorders are caused by problems with how the brain and gut work together (brain-gut interaction). Thus, a faulty brain-gut interaction in some people with IBS may cause the food to move too slowly or too quickly through the gut. This causes changes in bowel movements. IBS refers to a group of symptoms occurring together, including repeated pain in the abdomen, cramping, bloating, and changes in the bowel movements, which may be diarrhea, constipation, or both. The typical feature of IBS is that these symptoms occur without any visible signs of damage or disease in the gut. IBS can cause a huge amount of discomfort, however, it does not damage the intestines.
IBS is a long term or chronic disorder. The symptoms of IBS may come and go. It is a common condition affecting about twice as many women as men. IBS is most often reported in people younger than 45 years of age. The exact cause of IBS is not known. The condition does not have any specific test for diagnosing it. Tests may be done to exclude other conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and certain cancers. Most cases of IBS are effectively managed with diet, stress management, probiotics, and medicine.
What are the different types of IBS?
Based on different patterns of changes in the bowel movements or the presence of abnormal bowel movements, IBS is of three types. Certain diets or medications may work for one type of IBS but not for the other or may make other types worse. People with IBS often have normal bowel movements on some days and abnormal bowel movements on other days.
The three types of IBS are:
IBS with constipation (IBS-C): It is also called constipation-predominant IBS. It presents with the following symptoms on days when the person has at least one abnormal bowel movement:
- more than a quarter of the stools are hard or lumpy
- less than a quarter of the stools are loose or watery
- more than a quarter of the stools are loose or watery and
- less than a quarter of the stools are hard or lumpy
IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M): It is also called alternating type IBS or IBS-A. In this type of IBS, on days when there is at least one abnormal bowel movement:
- more than a quarter of the stools are hard or lumpy and
- more than a quarter of the stools are loose or watery
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IBS SlideshowWhat is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Learn about symptoms, causes, and foods that trigger IBS. Get lifestyle tips for managing IBS through diet and with IBS medications.
IBS vs. IBD: Differences and Similarities
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) are both problems with the digestive tract (gastrointestinal or GI tract), but they are not the same disease. IBS is a functional disorder (a problem with the way the GI tract functions), and IBD is a disease that causes chronic prolonged inflammation of the GI tract, that can lead to ulcers and other problems that may require surgery. The most common forms of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, or UC.
Researchers do not know the exact cause of either disease, but they believe that IBS may be caused and triggered by a variety of factors (foods, stress, and the nervous system of the GI tract), while IBD may be genetic or due a problem with the immune system.
Common symptoms of both diseases are an urgent need to have a bowel movement, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain and cramping.
There are differences between the signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, for example, symptoms unique to IBD are:
- Joint pain or soreness
- Skin changes
- Rectal bleeding
- Eye redness or pain
- Unintentional weight loss
- Feeling tired
Symptoms unique to irritable bowel syndrome include:
- Sexual problems
- Abdominal bloating
- Whitish mucous in the stool
- Changes in bowel movements and in the way stools look
- An urgent need to urinate
- Urinating frequently
Treatment for IBS is with diet recommendations from a doctor or nutritionist, medication, and lifestyle changes like stress management and avoiding foods that trigger the condition. Treatments for IBD depend upon the type of disease, its symptoms, and health of the patient. Surgery may be necessary for some individuals.
Brown, AC, et al. "Existing Dietary Guidelines for Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis." Medscape.
Lehrer, J. "Irritable Bowel Syndrome." Medscape. Updated: Apr 04, 2017.
Rowe, W. "Inflammatory Bowel Disease." Medscape. Updated: Jun 17, 2016.
Romanowski, A, MS, RD. "Matching the Right Diet to the Right Patient." Medscape. Jan 27, 2017.
IBS-D (Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Diarrhea)
IBS-D or irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea refers to IBS with diarrhea. Symptoms of IBS-D include
- intestinal gas (flatulence),
- loose stools,
- frequent stools,
- abdominal pain,
- diarrhea, and
New non-FDA approved IBS tests may help diagnose IBS and IBS-D. Treatment of IBS-D is geared to toward managing symptoms with diet, medication, and lifestyle changes.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a GI (gastrointestinal) disorder with signs and symptoms that include abdominal pain, bloating, increased gas (flatulence), abdominal cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and food intolerance.Two new tests are now available that may help diagnose irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea and constipation (IBS-M) irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D), and irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C). Treatment for IBS includes diet changes, medications, and other lifestyle changes to manage symptoms.
IBS Triggers (Prevention)Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional disease that can affect the quality of those who suffer from this condition. People with IBS can make lifestyle changes that may modify or control the number and severity of episodes. Certain foods, medications, and hormone levels may trigger IBS episodes, for example fatty foods, dairy products, eating foods in large quantities, foods that contain high levels of sorbitol, foods that produce intestinal gas (broccoli, onions, cabbage, and beans), chocolate, caffeine, physiological stress, some antibiotics, some antidepressants, medicine with sorbitol, and menstrual pain. Exercise, diet, and other lifestyle changes can decrease IBS flares, and prevent the number and severity of IBS episodes of diarrhea and constipation.
IBS QuizWhat are symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Take this quiz and get quick facts on causes and treatment options for this common and uncomfortable digestive disorder.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in children is a functional gastrointestinal disorder with signs and symptoms of:
- Abdominal pain
The cause of IBS is unknown, however, certain foods, stress, anxiety, and depression may contribute to the symptoms of IBS. There is no cure for IBS in children; however, medications, dietary changes, and stress management may relieve symptoms.
Low FODMAP Diet for IBS
FODMAPs are foods that contain sugar alcohols and short chain carbohydrates. The gut can't digest them very well. There are "low" FODMAP foods and "high" FODMAP foods. Foods high in FODMAPs lay in the gut and ferment, which causes symptoms of:
- Excessive gas
- Abdominal pain
Some people with digestive diseases and disorders, for example, IBS, microscopic colitis, IBD (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis), and other functional bowel disorders often are placed on a low FODMAP diet to decrease the amount of high FODMAPs foods in the diet, which create uncomfortable symptoms.
Trulance (plecanatide)Trulance is a prescription medicine used in adults to treat a type of constipation called chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) and irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C). The safety and effectiveness of Trulance have not been established in patients less than 18 years of age. Serious side effects of Trulance include severe diarrhea.