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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly referred to as IBS, is a condition that causes changes in bowel movements, pain or cramping in the abdominal region, and/or other symptoms. Though they are often confused, irritable bowel syndrome is not the same as inflammatory bowel disease, also known as IBD. The primary difference between irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease is that in irritable bowel disease, the overall structure of the bowel is normal.

Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is presently unknown. While it often develops following an infection in the intestines, there are also other triggers. Because the intestine is connected to the brain, signals from the brain have an effect on the function of the bowels and can cause a multitude of symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome may develop when the nerves connecting the brain to the intestines become more active and cause the intestines to contract more frequently and become sensitive. IBS is the most common intestinal problem that leads to patients being referred to a gastroenterologist. Approximately one in six Americans experiences the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. IBS can occur at any age, but they are more common in teenagers and young adults. The occurrence of IBS is two times more common in women than in men.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Patients with IBS may experience a multitude of symptoms that vary greatly in severity. The majority of patients have mild symptoms, but some may experience severe symptoms. The most common symptoms include pain in the abdominal region, bloating, and gas. These symptoms may improve temporarily following a bowel movement. Most patients also experience constipation, diarrhea, or both. The symptoms may change and become better or worse over time. Patients may also experience a loss of appetite.Doctors can usually diagnose irritable bowel syndrome based on the patient's symptoms. There are currently no tests that detect the presence of the disease, but some tests may be used to rule out other potential causes. Blood tests and stool cultures are commonly performed. Doctors may also recommend a colonoscopy for patients who are over the age or 50 or are experiencing particularly troubling symptoms such as bloody stools, weight loss, or low blood counts.

Because there is no cure for IBS, treatment is geared toward relieving the symptoms. Patients may need to change their diet and avoid foods or drinks that cause worse symptoms. Doctors may also prescribe various medications to help relieve and/or prevent symptoms.