In America, irritable bowel syndrome or IBS affects about 15% of people, the majority of which are women. Read on to find out the causes, symptoms, treatment and all you need to know about this common disorder.


IBS, also known as spastic colon or mucous colitis, is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine. Essentially, many people experience this condition as a group of intestinal symptoms that occur together. IBS is not the same as irritable bowel disease, although, sometimes, it can also lead to intestinal damage.


IBS does not put you at risk of gastrointestinal cancers.


The exact cause of IBS is medically not known. There are, however, some factors that contribute to the condition. These are: 

Intestinal muscle contractions. There are layers of muscle within the walls of the intestine. Food can pass through the digestive tract when these muscles contract. Sometimes, these contractions are strong and last very long, and they cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. At other times, these contractions are weak, and they slow down the passage of food through the digestive tract, leading to dry, hard stools.

Nervous system. A malfunction of the nerves in the digestive system can prevent the brain and the intestines from coordinating. The result of this is that the body overreacts to the changes in digestion, which causes pain, diarrhea or constipation.

Infection. After an episode of serious diarrhea or gastroenteritis caused by bacteria or a virus, a person can develop IBS. Alternatively, too much buildup of bacteria in the intestines can cause IBS.

Stress. Experiencing stressful events such as trauma during childhood can cause one to have IBS during adulthood.

Changes in gut microbes. There are gut microbes such as bacteria, fungi and viruses which live in the intestines and help with the digestive process. Sometimes, changes in these microbes can cause IBS. That is why lab tests usually show that the microbes in the guts of people suffering from IBS are different from those who do not suffer from the condition.


IBS symptoms vary from person to person in severity and duration. The common symptoms, however, are:

  • Abdominal pain, cramping and bloating when passing bowel movements
  • Changes in the look of bowel movements or stool, such as too much mucous in a person's stool
  • Changes in the frequency of bowel movements

Sometimes, prolonged IBS symptoms can be signs of something more serious such as colon cancer. In this case, as soon you experience the below symptoms see your doctor:

  • Loss of weight
  • Having diarrhea at night
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Vomiting
  • Anemia caused by iron deficiency
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Pain in the gut that persists but eases up when you pass wind or empty your bowels

    IBS symptoms are also triggered by:

    Food. Wheat, milk and dairy products, beans, citrus fruits, cabbage and carbonated drinks can worsen IBS symptoms. 

    Stress. Stress does not cause IBS however, it can worsen IBS symptoms and bring them on more frequently.



    Most people occasionally experience some IBS symptoms, but those who are more prone to have the disorder are:

    • People below the age of 50
    • Women, particularly those who have had estrogen therapy before or after menopause
    • People with IBS in their families
    • People who have intense anxiety, depression or other psychological disorders because of abuse (physical, sexual or emotional) they have experienced at some point in their lives


      Doctors can diagnose IBS based on a patient's symptoms, but so they can zero in on IBS being the cause of these symptoms, they may have to do  the following:

      • Ask a patient to go on a particular diet or stop eating certain foods for a while so they can be sure the cause of symptoms is not food allergies.
      • Check a person's stool sample to be sure symptoms are not caused by an infection.
      • Take blood samples to rule out anemia or celiac disease as possible causes of symptoms.
      • Ask a patient to do a colonoscopy to rule out colitis, Crohn's disease or cancer.


      Making changes in your diet or lifestyle is the first course of action your doctor will suggest for treating IBS. Some of these remedies are:

      • exercising regularly
      • eating in small portions
      • cutting down on caffeinated beverages, and spicy or fried foods 
      • reducing stress 
      • taking probiotics to lessen gas and bloating

      However, if these do not work, your doctor will put you on medications such as:

      • those to control muscle spasms
      • anti-constipation drugs to prevent constipation
      • tricyclic antidepressants to lessen pain
      • antibiotics


      IBS symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation can lead to hemorrhoids. Besides, IBS affects a person's quality of life; most sufferers of the condition are usually absent from work for some days. Another complication IBS causes is mood swings. People get depressed or anxious when they experience IBS symptoms which affect their moods.


      Disclaimer: The information shared by this post is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to be professional medical advice nor a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your physician concerning anything you have read here. 


      By Nana Ama Afoa Osae I Writer I GreatWonderful Team

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