Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you know the discomfort and disruption it can cause. IBS is a chronic condition that affects your large intestine.  

It's very common, especially in women, affecting about twice as many women as men.

IBS is often confused with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Although some of the symptoms are similar, there are differences in the two conditions. IBD refers to chronic swelling, or inflammation, and IBS is non-inflammatory. It’s also possible to have both of these conditions at the same time.

Symptoms of IBS

Signs and symptoms of IBS usually come and go in most people and  may include:

  • Cramping.
  • Bloating.
  • A change in your bowel habits.
  • Constipation.
  • Diarrhea.
  • An urgent need to empty your bowels.
  • Stomach pain/abdominal pain.
  • Nausea.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Excessive gas.

IBS symptoms do not cause any permanent damage to your intestines or increase your risk of colorectal cancer.

To be diagnosed with IBS, you should be experiencing symptoms at least three times a month for a minimum of six months.

Unfortunately, there isn’t one test that can detect IBS. Your doctor will likely discuss your medical history and symptoms with you and do a physical exam to help determine if you have IBS.

Your doctor may also recommend additional tests to rule out other causes for your symptoms, such as an X-ray, CT scan, colonoscopy, endoscopy or stool tests.

Causes of IBS

Doctors aren’t sure what causes IBS, but it may be caused by several factors, including sensitivity to certain foods, bacterial overgrowth or abnormal movements in the colon and small intestines. While it hasn’t been proven, there may also be a genetic link.

Managing Your IBS

Treating IBS is about keeping your symptoms at bay, so you can live your life without embarrassing interruptions. Often times symptoms can be controlled by making lifestyle changes, like:

  • Eating high-fiber foods.
  • Drinking lots of water.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Getting enough sleep.

You may want to avoid foods that cause gas like carbonated beverages and certain vegetables. Some people with IBS seem to improve by eliminating gluten from their diet. A Mercy dietitian can help you with menu planning and tips on eating healthy.

Sometimes, IBS symptoms are severe enough to require prescription medicine. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions when taking medicine.

Whether it’s medicine, lifestyle changes or a combination of both – your Mercy doctor can help design a customized treatment plan to keep your IBS symptoms in check and keep you living life to its fullest.

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