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Symptoms and Signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Doctor's Notes on What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? Test, Symptoms, Diet

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is known as a functional gastrointestinal disorder, meaning that is diagnosed based on having a set of symptoms over time affecting the movement of the gastrointestinal tract rather than a specific type of damage to the gastrointestinal tract. The cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not well understood. Symptoms and signs of irritable bowel syndrome can include diarrhea, changes in bowel habits, constipation, gas, bloating, abdominal pain or cramping, and food intolerance. Other associated symptoms can be abdominal swelling, nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, loose stools, straining to have a bowel movement, and the presence of mucous in the stool or foamy-appearing stool. The specific symptoms depend on the type of IBS that is present, whether constipation or diarrhea is the predominant feature.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? Test, Symptoms, Diet Symptoms

In addition to dietary changes, there are some healthy habits that may also help reduce IBS symptoms.

  • Maintain good physical fitness to improve bowel function and help reduce stress.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stop smoking for overall good health.
  • Avoid coffee/caffeine and chewing gum.
  • Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption may help.
  • Stress management can help prevent or ease IBS symptoms.
    • Use relaxation techniques: deep breathing, visualization, Yoga
    • Do things you find enjoyable: talk to friends, read, listen to music
    • Gut-directed hypnosis can reduce stress and anxiety
    • Biofeedback teaches you to recognize your body's responses to stress and you can learn to slow your heart rate and relax.
  • Pain management techniques can improve tolerance to pain
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy with trained counselors

Antispasmodic drugs

Antispasmodic medicines, such as dicyclomine (Bemote, Bentyl, Di-Spaz) and hyoscyamine (Levsin, Levbid, NuLev), are sometimes used to treat symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Antispasmodic medicines help slow the movements of the digestive tract and reduce the chance of spasms. They may have side effects and are not for everyone. Other treatment plans are available, depending on the symptoms and condition.

Antidiarrheal drugs

Antidiarrheal medicines, such as loperamide (Imodium), a kaolin/pectin preparation (Kaopectate), and diphenoxylate/atropine (Lomotil), are sometimes used when diarrhea is a major feature of IBS. Do not take these on a long-term basis without first consulting a doctor.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants may be very effective in smaller doses than those typically used to treat depression. Imipramine (Tofranil), amitriptyline (Elavil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), and desipramine (Norpramin) are some commonly used medicines that may alleviate irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Some other antidepressants are more commonly prescribed when depression and IBS coexist.

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 bread may help IBS symptoms (unless the person has celiac disease).

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 bread may help IBS symptoms (unless the person has celiac disease).

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):

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):

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? Test, Symptoms, Diet Causes

  • IBS is not contagious, inherited, or cancerous. It occurs more often in women than in men, and the onset occurs before the age of 35 in about half of the cases. IBS occurs in 5% to 20% of children.
  • IBS also has developed after episodes of gastroenteritis.
  • It has been suggested that IBS is caused by dietary allergies or food sensitivities, but this has not been proven.
  • Genetics also is suggested as a potential cause of IBS, but so far a hereditary link has not been found.
  • Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome may worsen during periods of stress or during menstruation, but these factors are unlikely to be the cause that leads to the development of IBS.

IBS - Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms, Diet, Treatment Slideshow

IBS - Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms, Diet, Treatment Slideshow

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder in which the intestines do not work normally. Other names for IBS are spastic colon or functional bowel disease. The consequences of the malfunction of the intestines is abdominal pain that is associated with constipation, diarrhea, or constipation alternating with diarrhea. The disorder affects at least 10% of the population of North America.

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REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.