Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is extremely common, in fact 20 to 40% of all visits to gastroenterologists are due to IBS symptoms.
IBS is a disorder that affects the large intestine (colon) and it occurs in people of all ages, even children. As many as 10 to 20 percent of the adult population have symptoms of IBS.
Although the symptoms of IBS can be extremely troubling, it does not damage the intestines.
Symptoms are unpredictable and vary from person to person. The severity can range from mildly bothersome to severely disabling. Symptoms may subside for a few months and then return, or they may be persistent and worsen over time.
In general a person with IBS has abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Some people will have constipation while others will have diarrhea. In some cases the constipation will alternate with diarrhea. The abdominal discomfort or pain are usually relieved with a bowel movement.
Other symptoms of IBS may include heartburn, early feeling of fullness, nausea, abdominal fullness, bloating, intermittent upper abdominal pain, feelings of urgency (sudden urge to find a restroom), and a feeling of incomplete bowel emptying.
Bleeding, fever, weight loss, and persistent severe pain are not symptoms of IBS and may indicate other more serious problems.
The exact etiology of IBS is not clear, but a common theory is sensitivity to certain foods and stress. IBS is not caused by stress, however, symptoms can be exacerbated or triggered by stress.
There is no specific test for IBS, however, it is important to be evaluated by your health care provider.
Make the most of your visit by completing and taking a symptom diary. This information will greatly help your health care provider diagnose and manage your condition.
In most cases, tests will be needed to rule out other more serious diseases. These tests may include blood tests, stool samples, x-rays, and a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.