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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Did you know that if you often have belly pain or discomfort that may feel like cramps along with diarrhea, constipation, or both, you could have irritable bowel syndrome?

What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, meaning it is a problem caused by changes in how the GI tract works. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs that digest food. People with a functional GI disorder have frequent symptoms, but the GI tract does not become damaged. IBS is not a disease; it is a group of symptoms that occur together.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

The symptoms of IBS include

  • belly pain or discomfort
  • changes in bowel habits

For most people with IBS, the pain or discomfort occurs with two of the following:

  • starts with bowel movements that occur more or less often than usual
  • starts with stool that appears looser and more watery or harder and more lumpy than usual
  • gets better after a bowel movement

Other symptoms include

  • diarrhea—having loose, watery stools three or more times a day and feeling an urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • constipation—having hard, dry stools; having three or fewer bowel movements in a week; or straining to have a bowel movement
  • feeling that you haven’t finished a bowel movement
  • clear liquid in your stool
  • a swollen or bloated belly

Your symptoms may often occur after you eat a meal. To have IBS, you must have symptoms at least 3 days a month.

How will I know if I have IBS?

Your doctor may diagnose IBS based on a physical exam and medical history. Further testing isn’t usually needed, though your doctor may do a blood test to look for other problems. More tests may be needed based on the results of the blood test or if you have signs of another problem.

What can I do about IBS?

IBS has no cure, but you can take some steps to relieve symptoms. Your doctor may suggest one or more of the following:

  • Changes in eating, diet, and nutrition. Your doctor may tell you to eat smaller meals more often or smaller portions. You should avoid foods and drinks that make your symptoms worse. Your doctor may have you increase your fiber intake if you have constipation.
  • Medicines. Your doctor may prescribe medicines that treat constipation or diarrhea or that lessen belly pain.
  • Probiotics. Probiotics are bacteria normally found in your GI tract. Taking pills or eating certain foods, such as yogurt, that contain probiotics may help your symptoms.
  • Therapies for mental health problems. If you have a mental health problem, such as stress, that makes your symptoms worse, talk therapy, hypnotherapy, or a type of meditation called mindfulness training may help you feel better.

Where can I get more information about IBS?