Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disease affecting the intestines. It is also called spastic colon. The cause of IBS is not known, but stress and emotions are known to worsen the symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome is a common disorder, affecting females more often than males. Most individuals generally begin having symptoms of IBS in their early 20s. Many of these individuals never see a healthcare provider about their complaints.

The diagnosis of IBS is made by eliminating other causes. Other causes of abdominal pain and changing bowel habits must be ruled out before making the diagnosis of IBS. This means laboratory studies must be done. Procedures such as a barium enema x-ray or colonoscopy are sometimes done to exclude other causes. A colonoscopy is a lighted flexible instrument used to examine the colon. This disease is not curable. It is usually recurrent throughout life. The symptoms can be managed with diet, medications, and lifestyle changes. It does not appear that IBS causes other conditions such as cancer.

What To Do

  • Maintain proper eating habits and select foods carefully
  • Stop smoking
  • Gradually increase fiber in the diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are good sources, but be careful because they can cause gas and bloating.
  • Try to reduce stress
  • Avoid large meals, spicy, fried, and fatty foods, milk products, and alcohol

When to Call Your Doctor

  • If fever develops
  • If there is blood in the stool or the stool is black and tarry
  • If vomiting develops
  • If unexplained weight loss occurs
  • If symptoms do not improve with treatment

Download our special grocery shopping list, developed specifically for those who have IBS!


What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is a disorder that affects the GI tract. Most people with IBS can manage their condition by eating right, practicing healthy habits, and reducing stress. IBS is chronic, and those who have it learn to manage their symptoms for the long term.

What is the difference between IBS and IBD?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is much different from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). While it definitely is life-impacting, IBS is a less serious medical problem than IBD, which includes both Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis. To learn more, visit our blog.

What are the symptoms of IBS?
IBS symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping or bloating that is typically relieved or partially relieved by passing a bowel movement
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Mucus in the stool

How do I develop IBS?
We do not yet know the exact reason IBS occurs, but it may have something to do with faulty communication between the brain and the GI tract.

Can anxiety or stress cause IBS?
While anxiety and stress do not cause IBS, per se, both can exacerbate the situation and cause flare-ups.

Are there foods that could make IBS symptoms worse?
Yes! In general, foods that are high in unhealthy fats, fried food, processed food, and dairy can cause worsening IBS symptoms.

Is there food I can eat to help with symptoms?
Depending on your symptoms, the right foods can make all the difference. A Low FODMAP Diet is the way to start. With the help of your provider, an individualized plan will be made for you. Every person with IBS has different food that works for them.

How do doctors test for IBS?
After a complete exam, your doctor may wish to move forward with a test for IBS. This may include blood tests, stool tests, and an endoscopy to further evaluate the GI tract and establish the diagnosis.

Can IBS be cured?
Technically, IBS cannot be cured. It can, however, be managed so that those suffering from it may experience symptoms only very rarely.

Can IBS go away on its own?
With effective management of IBS, symptoms may disappear almost completely.

Can IBS be fatal?
IBS is not fatal.

Is IBS considered a chronic illness?
Yes, although you may not suffer from symptoms of IBS at all times, the condition is considered chronic.


For More Information
National Library of Medicine
8600 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20894
International Foundation for Bowel Dysfunction
P.O. Box 17864
Milwaukee, WI 53217

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