Diseases & Conditions


IBSCausesDiagnosisMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatment

What is IBS?

IBS or irritable bowel syndrome is a painful condition of the abdomen. It is condition with no clear cause and is often diagnosed by exclusion or by ruling out other problems.

Causes of IBS

An identifiable cause for IBS is yet to be discovered. However scientific research has proposed that it is a condition that is caused due to malfunctioning of the communication system between the brain and the gut. Hence individuals diagnosed with IBS often have irregular bowel movements. The intestines are sensitive to particular foods and can be irritated by them. Research has also shown that Irritable bowel syndrome can be caused due to bacterial infections.

It has been observed that many people develop IBS post gastroenteritis. In addition to these, research has also been able to link the condition in some people to stress due to a traumatic event, sensitive immune system reaction. In adolescents maturity sometimes can trigger the condition.

Diagnosis of IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome does not have a definite diagnosis procedure. It is often diagnosed by ruling out other conditions.

A gastroenterologist will evaluate the symptoms and the occurrence of pain with respect of eating and bowel movements. The frequency of pain in the last one year will also be noted. A medical history with focus on gastric infections will be drawn up. Eating habits and food consumed on regular basis are also careful evaluated.

An evaluation of the GI tract is done through sigmoidoscopy or if required colonoscopy. If the doctor does not find any signs that may indicate the presence of other gastrointestinal conditions, then IBS is the conclusive diagnosis.

Medications for IBS

Some medications (according to class) that are prescribed for managing symptoms of IBS are –

  • Laxatives - sorbitol, lactulose and other osmotic laxatives
  • antispasmodic drugs- atropine and mebeverine
  • Serotonin agonists - Tegaserod
  • Serotonin antagonists - Alosetron, cilansetron

Prevention of IBS

The exact cause of IBS is yet to be discovered. Therefore it is not possible to define a preventive measure. Nevertheless, having a balanced diet, with adequate fiber content has shown to reduce the occurrence of gastrointestinal problems. In addition to that, recognizing foods that sensitize the gut is also essential.

Risk factors for IBS

  • Bacterial infections of the digestive system
  • Stress, anxiety and depression
  • Sensitive immune system
  • Sensitiveness to foods
  • Mild Celiac disease
  • Heightened sensitivity to pain

Symptoms of IBS

IBS is mostly characterized by abdominal pain that can be severe. Constipation or diarrhea or both repeatedly is another symptom. Owing to the condition, the bowel movement is not proper and the intestines may function spasmodically, resulting in pain.

The pain due to IBS is often relieved after passing stools and the pain may not be constant but comes in spasms. Other symptoms include –

  • Change in frequency of bowel movement
  • Difficulty in passing stools
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Stools laced with mucus
  • Urgency to pass stools and loss of control
  • If constipation persists, then it may cause bleeding of the anal canal. Bleeding however should not be considered as a symptom of IBS.

In some people the symptoms worsen after having meals or consuming specific foods like wheat, chocolate, alcohol or milk products.

Treatment for IBS

Since IBS does not have a cause its treatment is not specific. The objective of treatment is to manage the symptoms, particularly the pain. Modifications to the diet are the first corrective measure. Eating habits are also modified, in order to reduce the intensity of symptoms. For some individuals, stress management provides relief. For others, avoiding specific foods improves their condition during irritable bowel syndrome.

Pain management is another aspect. Many individuals may not require long term pain management medications. However, some people with severe spasms may require antispasmodics. Stool softeners will also be required to make stool passage easier. Low doses of antidepressants may be required for tackling stress due to depression and a class of drugs called serotonin uptake modifiers, also provide relief for some during irritable bowel syndrome.