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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (cont.)

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of IBS?

IBS affects each person differently. The hallmark of IBS in adults and children is abdominal discomfort or pain. The following signs and symptoms also are common:

  • Abdominal cramping and pain that are relieved with bowel movements
  • Alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation
    • Those who mostly have diarrhea as a symptom are considered to have IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D), characterized by sudden urges to have bowel movements, along with loose stools, , frequent stools, abdominal pain and discomfort, gas, and the feeling of being unable to completely empty the bowels. In severe cases of IBS-D, individuals may lose control of their bowels.
    • Those who mostly have constipation as a symptom are considered to have IBS with constipation (IBS-C), characterized by passage of hard, lumpy stools, straining during bowel movements, and infrequent stools
  • Change in the stool frequency or consistency
  • Gassiness (flatulence)
  • Passing mucus from the rectum
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal distension
  • Loss of appetite

Though not a symptom of IBS, indigestion affects up to 70% of people with IBS.

The following are NOT signs and symptoms or characteristics of IBS (but should still be brought to the attention of a health-care professional since they may be signs and symptoms of other conditions):

Who Gets IBS?

Risk factors for IBS include:

  • Abnormal (too fast or slow, or too strong) movements of the colon and small intestines
  • Hypersensitivity to pain caused by gas or full bowels
  • A viral or bacterial infection of the stomach and intestines (gastroenteritis)
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Reproductive hormones or neurotransmitters may be off-balance in people with IBS.

Anxiety or depression may accompany IBS, though these have not been found to be a direct cause of IBS.

Are IBS and IBD the Same Bowel Condition?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are not the same condition. Technically, IBS is not a disease, but rather a functional disorder (abnormal function of the bowels) that results in a group of symptoms.

Irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease can have similar symptoms, but IBS is less serious than IBD. IBS does not cause inflammation, intestinal bleeding, rectal bleeding, ulcers, permanent damage to the intestines, or complications that can occur with IBD.

When Should You Seek Medical Care for IBS?

If a person has any of the symptoms of IBS as discussed previously, or if a person with known IBS has unusual symptoms, a health-care professional should be consulted. Go to a hospital emergency department if problems are severe and/or come on suddenly.

How Do You Know If You Have IBS - Tests?

IBS can be difficult to diagnose. IBS is called a diagnosis of exclusion, which means a doctor considers many other alternatives first, performing tests to rule out other medical problems. Some of these tests may include laboratory studies, imaging studies (such as a CT scan or small intestinal X-rays), and endoscopy and/or colonoscopy). An endoscopy is a procedure in which a flexible tube with a tiny camera at one end is passed into the GI tract while the patient is under conscious sedation. A combination of history, physical examination, and selected tests are used to help diagnose irritable bowel syndrome.

Two relatively new blood antibody blood tests may help doctors and other medical specialists diagnose irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea or IBS-D, and irritable bowel syndrome mixed or IBS-M (irritable bowel syndrome with constipation and diarrhea).

These new blood tests are for anti-CdtB and anti-vinculin antibodies, which researchers believe, are thought to develop in some patients after having had acute) acute gastroenteritis caused by several different, common types of bacteria. The overgrowth of these bacteria in the gut may trigger an immune attack on the patients’ own intestinal tissues (autoimmunity) with the ensuing inflammation and damage to the tissues, which causes IBS symptoms.

This test also may help doctors distinguish between IBS and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), a very different type of intestinal disease that may involve the immune system.

The test appears to be of use in diagnosing patients with irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea IBS-D, but not IBS with constipation (IBS-C). The tests appear to be specific, and if the antibodies are present, it is highly likely that the patient has IBS. However, the tests are insensitive, which means that if the antibodies are not present, the patient still may have IBS. Thus, the tests may be identifying only a subset of individuals with IBS, those with post-infectious IBS. The FDA has not approved irritable bowel syndrome, nor have they undergone rigorous scientific examination for effectiveness. The test expected to cost from $500 to over $1,000.

What Natural Home Remedies and Diet Changes Treat and Relieve IBS Symptoms?

Most people with IBS have symptoms only occasionally and the following measures may treat or soothe symptoms during a flare:

  • Add fiber to the diet: Fiber theoretically expands the inside of the digestive tract, reducing the chance it will spasm as it transmits and digests food. Fiber also promotes regular bowel movements, which helps reduce constipation. Fiber should be added gradually, because it may initially worsen bloating and gassiness. People with IBS-D should look for foods with more soluble fiber, the type that takes longer to digest (such as that found in oats, beans, barley, peas, apples, carrots, and citrus fruits).
  • Reduce stress and anxiety: Stress and anxiety may cause IBS "flares." Health-care professionals may offer specific advice on reducing stress. The following may help reduce stress and problems associated with IBS:
    • Eat regular balanced meals.
    • Reduce caffeine intake.
    • Exercise may help reduce stress.
    • Smoking may worsen symptoms of IBS, which is another good reason to quit.

Other home remedies to soothe and lessen IBS symptoms include:

  • Increase fiber in the diet
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid soda, which may cause gas and abdominal discomfort
  • Eat smaller meals to help lessen the incidence of cramping and diarrhea.
  • Low fat and high carbohydrate meals such as pasta, rice, and whole grain breads may help IBS symptoms (unless the person has celiac disease).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/22/2017

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The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Test, Symptoms, Diet, and Treatments:

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Irritable Bowel Disease »

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional GI disorder characterized by abdominal pain and altered bowel habits in the absence of specific and unique organic pathology.

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