What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is a chronic condition of the digestive system that causes pain in the belly and problems with bowel movements such as constipation, diarrhea, or both.
Symptoms: Constipation, Diarrhea, Bloating, Cramping, Burping, Gas. Abdominal pain in IBS can vary, but should NOT be associated with weight loss, rectal bleeding, and anemia and should not be getting worse at night. If you experience symptoms like these, you should see your health care provider.
Several treatments are available for IBS. These help symptoms so you feel better.
IBS is NOT a risk for cancer. The symptoms of IBS are not life threatening and are not imaginary.
Diagnosis of IBS
There is no single diagnostic test for IBS. Many health care providers compare your symptoms to formal sets of diagnostic criteria or order blood tests in people with suspected IBS; these tests are usually normal, but they can help rule out other medical conditions.
There are a number of different treatments and therapies for IBS. Treatments are often given to reduce the pain and other symptoms of IBS, and it may be necessary to try more than one combination of treatments to find the one that is most helpful to you.
- Monitor your symptoms with a daily diary: The first step in treating IBS is to monitor symptoms, daily bowel habits, and any other factors that may affect your bowels. This can help to identify factors that worsen your symptoms, such as lactose or other food intolerances and stress.
- Diet changes: Having a routine with regular meals and usual set time to have a bowel movement can be helpful.
- Increasing dietary fiber: Increasing the dietary fiber may relieve symptoms of IBS. By reading the product information panel on the package, you can determine the number of grams of fiber per serving. A bulk forming soluble fiber supplement (such as psyllium in Metamucil capsules) may also be recommended to increase fiber intake since it is difficult to consume enough fiber in the diet. Fiber supplements should be started at a low dose and increased slowly over several weeks to reduce the symptoms of excessive intestinal gas, which can occur in some people when beginning fiber therapy.
- Psychosocial therapies: Stress and anxiety can worsen IBS in some people. Some people benefit from counseling and/or cognitive behavior therapy, which helps you to focus on a particular problem in a limited time period. You learn how your thoughts contribute to anxiety or stress and learn how to change these thoughts. Participation in a support group can also be valuable. Many patients find that daily exercise is helpful in maintaining a sense of well-being. Exercise can help reduce stress which can have an effect on your bowels because of the effect of the serotonin response in our gut. Getting enough sleep can be very helpful.
- IBS medications: Although there are medications available to treat the symptoms of IBS, these drugs do not cure the condition. The choice among these medications depends in part upon whether you have diarrhea, constipation, or pain-predominant IBS.
Although IBS can cause pain and stress, the majority of patients are able to control symptoms and live a normal life without developing serious health problems.
The Student Health Center has resources to support you.