Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a disorder of the intestines that leads to a change in bowel movements, crampy pain, gassiness and bloating. Some people with IBS have constipation or difficult or infrequent bowel movements and others can experience diarrhea or loose stools, often with an urgent need to move the bowels -- some people can have both. Most people who have IBS can control their symptoms through prescription medications, diet, and stress management.
IBS has been called by many names such as functional bowel disorder, colitis, mucous colitis, spastic colon and spastic bowel. Most of these terms are inaccurate. Colitis, for instance, means inflammation of the large intestine (colon). IBS, however, does not cause inflammation and should not be confused with another disorder, ulcerative colitis.
The cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not known, and as yet there is no cure. Doctors call it a functional disorder because there is no signof disease when the colon is examined. IBS causes a great deal of discomfort and distress, but it does not cause permanent harm to the intestines and does not lead to intestinal bleeding of the bowel or to a serious disease such as cancer. Often IBS is just a mild annoyance, but for some people it can be disabling. They may be unable to go to social events, work, or be restricted to less frequent travel. It is estimated that between ten and twenty percent of the population has IBS at some time in their lives. IBS often starts in adolescents or young adults. It affects three times as many women as men and is often associated with stress.
Your doctor may prescribe fiber supplements or occasional laxatives if you are constipated. Some physicians may prescribe drugs that control colon muscle spasms, drugs that slow the movement of food through the digestive system, tranquilizers, or antidepressant drugs, all of which may relieve symptoms. Follow the physician's instructions when taking medications for IBS, especially laxatives, which can be become a habit if they are not used properly.
IBS has not been shown to lead to any serious, organic diseases. No link has been established between IBS and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. IBS does not lead to cancer. Some patients have a more severe form of IBS, and the pain and diarrhea may cause them to withdraw from normal activities. These patients need to work with their physicians to find the best combination of medicine, diet, counseling, and support to control their symptoms.