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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common chronic condition that someone may have long term. Managing symptoms with medication , lifestyle and dietary changes can help improve quality of life.

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Someone who has a recent diagnosis of IBS or is experiencing symptoms may wonder how long their flare-up will last and whether doctors can cure the condition.

As a chronic disorder, doctors can help people manage their symptoms, but there is currently no cure.

This article explains IBS and its symptoms as well as discusses treatments and tips to help someone manage flare-ups.

IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that affects approximately 12% of people in the United States. People with IBS experience symptoms such as bloating and pain in the abdomen and changes in bowel movements.

The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) states that IBS is a lifelong chronic disorder that a person may always experience. However, that does not mean someone will have symptoms all the time. Their IBS symptoms may come and go.

Types of IBS

People with IBS may have regular bowel movements on some days and atypical bowel movements on others. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), there are three types of IBS.

On days when a person has at least one atypical bowel movement, a person may have:

  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C): Atypical bowel movements where more than a quarter of the time the stool is hard or lumpy and less than a quarter of the stool is loose or watery.
  • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D): Atypical bowel movements where more than a quarter of the time the stool is loose or watery and less than a quarter of the stool is hard or lumpy.
  • IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M): Atypical bowel movements where more than a quarter of the time the stool is hard or lumpy and more than a quarter of the stool is loose or lumpy.

However, the NIDDK states that a doctor may diagnose IBS even if someone’s bowel movement pattern does not fit one particular type.

IBS is a chronic condition that may be lifelong. Doctors do not completely understand how it develops or how to cure it. Treatment aims to relieve symptoms.

Flare-ups of symptoms tend to come and go over time and can last for days, weeks, or months. The duration of these symptoms may impact a person’s quality of life and daily activities.

Flare-ups of IBS can vary in length from person to person and include the following symptoms:

The IFFGD notes that IBS follows an unpredictable course of periods of relative calm and periods of pain or discomfort. Additionally, people may have a flare-up when they are ill, eat something they react to, or are stressed.

It can be frustrating when someone cannot identify the triggers of their IBS. The IFFGD states that there are still probably triggers that scientists do not know about or understand yet.

However, there are several diet and lifestyle strategies that experts say may help to manage the periods of IBS flare-ups and remission that some people experience:

  • Probiotics: People can get probiotics by purchasing them online, but they should talk with a doctor about their suitability.
  • Dietary changes: Avoiding gluten, eating more soluble fiber, or trying a low FODMAP diet may help someone identify food sensitivities.
  • Mental health therapies and relaxation: Managing stress with relaxation, meditation, or yoga may help some people regulate their gut-brain axis, which is the communication between the gut and the brain.
  • Physical activity: Being active in everyday life and exercising may improve some symptoms.
  • Sleep: Getting enough sleep can also help with symptoms.

The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) advises someone to contact a doctor if they think they may have IBS. However, the doctor will not usually do any tests, as they diagnose IBS based on the symptoms that someone has and the frequency.

For people who are age 45 or older, a doctor may perform a routine colonoscopy. People with a family history of colon cancer will require a colonoscopy before the age of 45.

Furthermore, the ACG states that IBS does not cause weight loss or bleeding with bowel movements. If a person experiences these symptoms, a doctor may investigate further to diagnose the cause.

Treatments

Although there is no cure for IBS, doctors may recommend remedies to relieve pain and help people feel better. These treatments will help improve symptoms that vary in duration, including:

Alternatives

Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or herbal medicine, may help some people.

Read on for whether acupuncture is effective for IBS.

Furthermore, a doctor may also prescribe a medication called Lotronex (alosetron) to people with severe IBS with diarrhea who do not respond to other treatments.

People should consult a doctor to discuss the benefits and risks of all treatments for IBS. If a person is experiencing regular and more severe symptoms, a doctor may discuss other alternatives or medications.

Learn about other ways to treat IBS.

Although scientists do not completely understand how IBS develops and what causes it, there may be a link to the interaction between the gut and brain.

The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication system between the brain and the gut.

According to a 2020 review, when this system is dysregulated, it can lead to alterations in bowel movements, inflammation, and hypersensitivity in the gut.

Additionally, the review highlights that people with IBS frequently have psychiatric conditions, such as:

Other scientific explanations for IBS include:

  • alterations in the microbiome
  • disturbances in immune function
  • genetic predisposition

A person should also speak with a health professional if IBS interferes with daily activities and affects their quality of life.

With the support of a doctor, someone with IBS may find individual strategies to manage their condition and provide relief from symptoms that occur daily, weekly, or monthly.

However, if a person has any new or unusual symptoms, they should seek medical advice immediately, as this could signify another condition.

People may have symptoms of IBS that last for long periods of time, and they may also have periods of remission long term.

There are several ways to manage these symptoms, such as with medication, psychological therapies, and dietary changes. In addition, probiotics, stress relief, and adequate sleep may help.

IBS symptoms do not include blood in stools or weight loss. If someone experiences these or any other new symptoms, doctors recommend they seek medical advice to rule out other conditions.