What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects between 10 and 15 percent of the U.S. population. This condition affects the large intestine and causes uncomfortable symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.

IBS is a chronic condition that needs to be managed long term. However, the good news is that it can be managed. Coming to a diagnosis is the first step in feeling better. Although IBS is relatively common, diagnosing it is a bit complicated.

Unlike ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which are forms of inflammatory bowel disease, IBS doesn’t cause changes in the bowel tissue. Because of that, there are usually no physical signs to definitively diagnose IBS. A diagnosis is often a process of ruling out other conditions.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

In order to help determine a diagnosis, researchers developed Rome Criteria, which is a collection of the most common symptoms that typify IBS. This includes abdominal pain or discomfort that lasts for several months that is also associated with two of the following:

  • Pain or discomfort that is relieved by defecation
  • Pain or discomfort that is associated with an increase or decrease in stool frequency
  • Pain or discomfort associated with the stools becoming harder or softer in consistency

After answering these questions with your doctor, the next step is to look for signs and symptoms that may suggest a condition other than IBS, such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease.

How to Treat IBS

Unfortunately, a diagnosis doesn’t necessarily lead to a clear-cut form of treatment. There isn’t a definitive cause of IBS, so treatment focuses on relieving your symptoms. Most often, people successfully control mild IBS signs and symptoms by learning to manage their stress and making lifestyle and diet changes.

Foods to Avoid with IBS

When it comes to diet, your doctor may suggest eliminating high-gas foods from your diet such as carbonated beverages, raw fruits and vegetables -- especially cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Although the evidence isn’t clear, some research shows that some people with IBS see improvement in their symptoms if they stop eating gluten, which includes wheat, barley and rye.

If you think a certain food is causing a problem, try eliminating it from your diet for 12 weeks. The foods most likely to cause problems include insoluble fiber such as cereal, coffee or caffeine, chocolate and nuts.

Sometimes it’s thought that meals may trigger IBS symptoms; other times, it’s the process of eating and not a certain type of food that leads to symptoms. Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, eating meals more slowly, avoiding large meals or high fat foods, and eating breakfast can help.

Other lifestyle changes that can help include exercising, drinking plenty of fluids and getting enough sleep. If symptoms are moderate or severe, your doctor may suggest medication in addition to lifestyle changes.

Contact Us

Fill out the online Appointment Request Form or call our Gastroenterology Appointment Center Line at 1-877-CKHS-GI1 (1-877-254-7441) to request an appointment.  

During weekdays, our representative will work to get you an appointment with a physician within 48 hours, and a procedure appointment at the location of your choice within two weeks. If you submit your request during night or weekend hours, someone will call you back on the next business day.

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