IBS stands for “irritable bowel syndrome,” a common condition affecting the digestive system. Irritable bowel syndrome may be an extremely embarrassing and restrictive problem for some people who have it. It is estimated that about twenty percent of the population is affected to some degree by irritable bowel syndrome, with the disorder being more common in women than it is in men. The onset of IBS is generally anywhere from young adulthood to middle age. Irritable bowel syndrome is not considered a curable condition, but the symptoms of IBS can be managed.
Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by symptoms such as constipation and diarrhea along with abdominal cramping and pain. The severity and combination of IBS symptoms varies from person to person. Some people with IBS experience diarrhea more frequently, some experience mostly constipation and others may alternate between the two problems in a cycle. The symptoms of IBS may get better on their own for a while or they may be basically constant.
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome may make it seem like there is something really wrong, especially if they go on for a long time without getting better. However, IBS does not cause permanent damage to the intestines like other diseases which cause similar symptoms, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. These other conditions are autoimmune problems that cause inflammation in the intestines and damage the intestinal lining. On the other hand, IBS does not seem to be an inflammatory autoimmune disease. People with IBS symptoms may require medical testing in some cases to make sure that another problem is not present, however.
There is no known specific cause of irritable bowel syndrome. However, there are some factors that can contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing IBS. Some people with IBS may have digestive systems that are abnormally sensitive to high levels of stress or certain foods that trigger the illness. People with IBS may also have colons that do not move food through at the rate that they should. If the large intestine is too fast with its smooth muscle contractions, diarrhea results. If it is too slow, too much water gets absorbed from the stools and constipation results. In some cases, irritable bowel syndrome may be linked to a bacterial infection of the intestines or an imbalance of the normal microflora present in the intestines.