Want to know if you have IBS?

We asked the National Institutes of Health for more information.

We know: All about Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that interferes with the normal functions of the large intestine (colon). It is characterized by a group of symptoms - crampy abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

How common is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

One in five Americans has IBS, making it one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. It occurs more often in women than in men, and it usually begins around age 20.

What causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

  • Symptoms cannot be traced to a single organic cause. Research suggests that people with IBS seem to have a colon that is more sensitive and reactive than usual to a variety of things, including certain foods and stress. Some evidence indicates that the immune system, which fights infection, is also involved.
  • In people with IBS, stress and emotions can strongly affect the colon. Like the heart and the lungs, the colon is partly controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which has been proven to respond to stress. The colon responds to stress also. It may contract too much or too little. It may absorb too much water or too little.

What are the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort in association with bowel dysfunction is the main symptom. Some people have constipation; others have diarrhea; and still others experience alternating constipation and diarrhea.
  • Some people experience bloating, which is gas building up in the intestines, causing the feeling of pressure inside the abdomen.
  • Sometimes people with IBS have a crampy urge to move their bowels but cannot do so or pass mucus with their bowel movements.

What treatment is available for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

No cure has been found for IBS, but many options are available to treat the symptoms. Your doctor will give you the best treatments available for your particular symptoms and encourage you to manage stress and make changes to your diet.

Medications are an important part of relieving symptoms. Your doctor may suggest fiber supplements or occasional laxatives for constipation, as well as medicines to decrease diarrhea, tranquilizers to calm you, or drugs that control colon muscle spasms to reduce abdominal pain. Antidepressants may also relieve some symptoms.

Medications available to treat IBS specifically are the following:

  • Alosetron hydrochloride (Lotronex)
  • Tegaserod maleate (Zelnorm)

With any medication, even over-the-counter medications such as laxatives and fiber supplements, it is important to follow your doctor's instructions.

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