The Fidelis Care Blog

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
4/1/2024 • Posted by Alan J. Wieder, MD, Medical Director in Health and Wellness

Irritable bowl syndrome graphic

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a painful condition that affects how food and fluids move through your intestines. IBS does not increase your risk of developing other intestinal conditions and is not life-threatening. IBS is also called irritable bowel, irritable colon, spastic colon, and nervous stomach.

What are symptoms of IBS?

Symptoms include belly pain, bloating, cramping, gassiness, and changes in bowel habits – such as diarrhea and/or constipation.

How common is IBS?

Up to 15% of people in the United States suffer from IBS. Most people with IBS are under the age of 50. But many older adults have IBS as well. Women are more likely to have IBS. A family history of IBS, emotional stress, anxiety, sensitivity to certain foods, and severe digestive tract infections increase your risk.

What causes IBS?

The cause of IBS is not known. It is likely caused by problems with the nerves that control how food moves through your intestines. IBS can be triggered by certain foods, medications, and emotional stress.

IBS should not be confused with another gastrointestinal condition called inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. IBD refers to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both of which cause inflammation of the intestines and can increase the risk of colon cancer. IBS does not cause either of these.

How is IBS diagnosed?

Your provider can diagnose IBS based on your symptoms, your medical history, your family history, and a physical exam.

How is IBS treated?

There is no cure for IBS. Treatment can help manage your symptoms. Treatment may include:

  1.  Dietary changes including:
    1. eating more fiber
    2. avoiding gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye)
    3. limiting dairy, and
    4. avoiding foods that contain certain carbohydrates (referred to as a low FODMAP diet).

Your provider may suggest that you avoid foods that tend to trigger symptoms. Common triggers include red peppers, green onions, red wine, caffeinated drinks, wheat, and cow’s milk.

  1. Lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, drinking enough fluids, reducing stress, relaxing, and quitting smoking.
  2. Taking medications (over the counter or prescription) to address your symptoms. These include medications to treat constipation or diarrhea, probiotics (good bacteria to promote good intestinal health), and medications that help reduce painful cramping and spasms to the nerves in the intestines.
  3. Mental health therapies, such as hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and biofeedback. These have been found to be helpful in some patients with IBS.

Talk to your provider about the right treatment for you.

Sources and Helpful Links




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