Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

Topic Overview

gast_01.jpg

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the intestines. It causes belly pain, cramping or bloating, and diarrhea or constipation. IBS is a long-term problem, but there are things you can do to reduce your symptoms.

Your symptoms may be worse or better from day to day, but your IBS will not get worse over time. IBS doesn't cause more serious diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.

It isn't clear what causes irritable bowel syndrome. The cause may be different for different people. IBS may be caused by problems with the way signals are sent between the brain and the digestive tractcamera.gif, problems digesting certain foods, and stress or anxiety. People with IBS may have unusually sensitive intestines or problems with the way the muscles of the intestines move.

For some people with IBS, certain foods, stress, hormonal changes, and some antibiotics may trigger pain and other symptoms.

The main symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are belly pain with constipation or diarrhea. Other common symptoms are bloating, mucus in the stools, and a feeling that you have not completely emptied your bowels.

Many people with IBS go back and forth between having constipation and having diarrhea. For most people, one of these happens more often than the other.

IBS is quite common, but most people's symptoms are so mild that they never see a doctor for treatment. Some people may have troublesome symptoms, especially stomachcramps, bloating, and diarrhea.

Because there are no structural problems in the intestines of people who have IBS, some people may think this means that the symptoms "are all in their head." This isn't true. The pain, discomfort, and bloating are real.

Most of the time, doctors can diagnose irritable bowel syndrome from the symptoms. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and past health and will do a physical exam.

In some cases, you may need other tests, such as stool analysis or blood tests. These tests can help your doctor rule out other problems that might be causing your symptoms.

Treatment usually includes making changes in your diet and lifestyle, such as avoiding foods that trigger your symptoms, getting regular exercise, and managing your stress.

If diet and lifestyle changes don't help enough on their own, your doctor may prescribe medicines for symptoms such as pain, diarrhea, or constipation.

Learning about IBS:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with IBS:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 05, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

what is ibs
Slideshow
lactose intolerance
Slideshow
 
Finding Right Diet IBS
Article
myth and facts about constipation
Slideshow
 
IBS Trigger Foods
Video
Supplements for IBS What Works
Article
 
IBS Symptoms Quiz
Quiz
digestive health
Slideshow
 
gluten free diet
Slideshow
digestive myths
Slideshow
 
what causes diarrhea
Video
top foods for probiotics
Slideshow
 

WebMD Special Sections