Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a diagnosis of exclusion (per exclusionem). In other words, a medical condition whose presence cannot be confirmed with complete confidence just by examination or testing. Diagnosis is therefore by elimination of other reasonable possibilities.
Contents of this article:
Fast facts on irritable bowel syndrome
Here are some key points about irritable bowel syndrome. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that causes abdominal discomfort, among other symptoms.
- Despite the discomfort caused by IBS, it generally does not lead to serious complications.
- Currently there is no cure for IBS.
- The gastrointestinal symptoms of IBS can lead to anxiety and depression.
- Women are twice as likely to develop IBS than men.
- The exact causes of IBS are still unknown but the immune system may play a role.
- Emotional state can play a significant role in IBS.
- There are no specific imaging or laboratory diagnostic tests for IBS.
- Reducing alcohol intake can ease symptoms.
- There are a number of medications that can help some IBS patients.
What is irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, spastic colitis, mucus colitis and nervous colon syndrome is a long-term (chronic) gastrointestinal disorder that causes abdominal pain, bloating, mucous in stools, irregular bowel habits, and alternating diarrhea and constipation. Although it is a chronic condition, symptoms tend to wax and wane over the years.
The causes of IBS are still relatively unknown.
Fortunately, most patients find that symptoms improve as they become better at controlling their condition. Fortunately, only a small percentage of individuals with IBS have severe symptoms.
IBS is regarded as a chronic illness that may have a considerably negative impact on the quality of life of the sufferer.
There is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms, and includes dietary changes (avoiding caffeine, milk products, and sweeteners), relaxation techniques, medications and exercise.
According to the National Health Service (NHS), UK, IBS is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions. Approximately 10% to 20% of the British population is affected by the condition at any one time. Some believe the figure may be considerably higher, because a significant number of patients do not see their doctor about it.
Most commonly, irritable bowel syndrome develops in individuals aged between 20 and 30 years; however, it may affect people of any age. Twice as many females as males are affected by IBS.
Symptoms of irritable bowel syndromeThere are three types of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS):
- IBS with constipation - the patient experiences stomach pain, discomfort, bloating, infrequent or much delayed bowel movements, or hard/lumpy stools
- IBS with diarrhea - the patient experiences stomach pain, discomfort, an urgent need to pass stools (open bowels, go to the toilet), very frequent bowel movements, or watery/loose stools
- IBS with alternating constipation and diarrhea.
The most common symptoms experienced by people with IBS are:
- A change in bowel habits, either diarrhea, constipation, and even both
- Abdominal pain and cramping - these symptoms are usually relieved after going to the toilet
- After going to the toilet the patient may feel that his/her bowels are not fully emptied
- Gas (wind, farting)
- Passing of mucus from the back passage (rectum)
- Sudden urgent need to go to the toilet, which can lead to fecal incontinence if a lavatory is not at hand
- Swelling/bloating of the abdomen.
IBS signs and symptoms may vary considerably from patient to patient. They often resemble those of other diseases and conditions.
Most individuals only have mild symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. However, symptoms may sometimes be severe and disabling. It is important to discuss symptoms with a doctor because they may occur with other diseases.
IBS may also cause symptoms to appear in other parts of the body, apart from the bowel area. These may include:
- Frequent urination
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Pain in the lower back
- Persistent fatigue.
On the next page, we look at risk factors, causes and diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome.