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Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Brief Version

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common problem of the large intestine (colon). It can be very painful. But it does not damage the intestine or cause death.

What is the cause?

We don't know why IBS happens. Most of the symptoms of IBS come from painful muscle spasms of the lower colon. Sometimes IBS slows down bowel movements and causes constipation. It may also speed up bowel movements and cause diarrhea.

For some people some foods may cause attacks of IBS. Stress can also bring on symptoms of IBS.

What are the symptoms?

You may:

  • Have very painful cramping in the abdomen.
  • Be constipated or have diarrhea.
  • Have a lot of gas.

Other things to watch for are:

  • bloating
  • a feeling of fullness in the rectum.

You may have these symptoms after you've eaten a big meal or when you are under stress. You may feel better after you have a bowel movement.

How is it treated?

Doctors have not yet found a cure for IBS. However, it helps to:

  • Eat the right foods.
    • You may try a special diet to see if certain foods are causing your symptoms. For example, your provider may ask you to see what happens if you don’t eat or drink any foods made from milk.
    • Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should eat more or less high-fiber food.
    • Don’t eat foods that make you have gas, like sodas (pop), cabbage, or beans.
  • Keep a food diary.

    Write down the foods you are eating and how you feel after you eat them. You may find that when you eat some kinds of food, you feel worse. When you learn what these foods are, you can avoid them.

  • Find ways to lower stress in your life.

    Think about what causes stress for you. Get help for managing stress. Try different ways to take care of stress, such as yoga, meditation, counseling, and exercise.

  • Take the medicines your healthcare provider says will help.

    You may need medicines that give your body more fiber, help prevent spasms, or relieve stress.

How long will it take to feel better?

You may have symptoms from time to time your whole life. There is no cure yet. But you can do many things to feel better. IBS does not turn into something worse.

How can I take care of myself?

Be sure to follow your healthcare provider's advice. Here are other things you can do:

  • Find ways to lower stress in your life. It can help to talk to a counselor.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. It can make your symptoms worse.
  • Choose your food with care. If you find that a food brings on your symptoms every time you eat it, stay away from it.
  • Eat smaller meals more often. For example, eat 4 to 6 small meals a day rather than 3 large ones.
  • Ask your provider for an exercise program. Exercise can help keep your bowels regular. It can also help you lower your stress.
  • See your provider if your symptoms are getting worse or you are having them more often.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-27
Last reviewed: 2010-12-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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