Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) | Loyola Medicine

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Overview and Facts about Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive health condition that causes sensitivity in the digestive system and can occur without any obvious signs of damage or disease in the digestive system. The three types of IBS are:

  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
  • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
  • IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M)

All three types are based on different patterns of changes in bowel movements or abnormal bowel movements. In many cases, people do not cleanly fit into one type.

Symptoms and Signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Pain in the stomach area is the most common IBS symptom, and it is often related to bowel movements. Changes to your bowel movements can include diarrhea, constipation or both, depending on your IBS type. IBS can sometimes be painful, but it does not lead to other health issues.

Other symptoms of IBS may include:

  • Bloating
  • Feeling like you haven’t finished a bowel movement
  • Whitish mucus in your stool

Women with IBS often have more symptoms during their periods.

Causes and Risk Factors of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The exact cause for IBS is unknown, but doctors have recognized some factors that may increase the condition's likelihood. These include:

  • Gender. Women are more likely to experience IBS.
  • Age. While IBS can affect people of all ages, the condition tends to affect people in their teenage years throughout their 40s.
  • Genetics. IBS tends to run in families.
  • Emotional issues. People with anxiety, depression or a history of emotional abuse or other mental health issues are more likely to experience IBS.
  • Food sensitivity. Dairy, wheat and sugary foods have been shown to cause or exacerbate IBS symptoms, although there is no evidence of their direct cause of IBS.
  • Medications. Certain treatments, like antibiotics and antidepressants, have been linked to IBS.

Tests and Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

There is no test to definitively diagnose IBS, so doctors usually review medical history (including general digestive health), conduct a physical exam and perform other tests to rule out other conditions. For example, if you have symptoms of IBD-D, the doctor may obtain blood tests or perform an endoscopy to rule out celiac disease.

Once other conditions have been ruled out, the doctor may ask the following questions to more accurately determine the nature of the IBS:

  • How long has the abdominal pain and discomfort lasted on an average day during the last three months?
  • How often are the pain and discomfort episodes related to defecation?
  • How often is the consistency of the stool altered?
  • How often are bowel movements incomplete?

Treatment and Care for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

To treat IBS, doctors may recommend some or all of the following:

  • Dietary changes
  • Lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise
  • Medications
  • Probiotics
  • Certain behavioral therapies to reduce anxiety and stress

It is important to know that finding the right treatment for you could take time, so keep communication with your doctor open so he or she can help you move through the process as comfortably as possible.