Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that causes a set of symptoms related to the large intestine. The symptoms of IBS include gas and flatulence, constipation, diarrhea, and cramping abdominal pain. Other common symptoms include stool with mucus in it, bloating, unusual stool consistency, and unnatural seeming stool colors, such as green. Symptoms of IBS are often very divergent, and some people only show a few of the symptoms, while others will have most or all of them.
The general lack of overall consistency in the symptoms of IBS is one of the reasons it is classified as a syndrome instead of a disease. In technical medical terms, a syndrome is a set of symptoms that often appear together, without a unifying understood cause. Scientists are unsure exactly what causes IBS, but they know that the symptoms of IBS tend to be found together often enough to suggest that something significant is going on.
Even though symptoms of IBS can be very discomforting, the syndrome doesn’t pose any significant long-term risk. In very severe cases of IBS, it can have a detrimental effect on quality of life, and may even adversely affect a person’s career by making them frequently ill, and forcing them to miss too many days of work. Some people also become depressed because symptoms of IBS are constantly returning and disrupting their daily plans.
In people who suffer with IBS, their bowel functions improperly, and this is what causes their symptoms. In some cases, their bowels will contract too forcefully. In other situations, their bowels may contract without enough force, and different episodes may have very different symptoms in a single patient for this same reason.
It is fairly common for IBS to be misdiagnosed as another bowel-related illness. It shares many symptoms with several more severe conditions, and doctors usually have to eliminate the more serious possibilities first. Sometimes doctors will perform special tests such as gastro-intestinal x-rays, and colonoscopies as part of the diagnostic process. IBS is a fairly common disorder, and it is diagnosed regularly, but usually it requires a specialist to recognize the symptoms.
Once doctors have made a diagnosis, most symptoms of IBS can be lessened with several treatment options. The first thing recommended is usually a change of diet, and the biggest dietary change is generally to increase intake of fiber-rich foods. Medicines, including laxatives, are often prescribed to reduce certain symptoms. Patients are also encouraged to reduce stress if possible, and most doctors recommend patients eat small frequent meals instead of fewer large meals.