The Top 10 Facts You Should Know About IBS

Learn The Truth About IBS, A Very Common Gastrointestinal Condition

Doctor & Patient
Discuss your treatment options for IBS with your physician, with the idea of being open about lifestyle changes that can help you avoid symptoms. Image © Getty

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that is a source of many myths and fallacies. With all these uncertainties, it's important to understand what we do know to be true about IBS. In recent years, much more factual information about IBS has come to light, and it's increasingly being acknowledged as a common condition that can cause a great deal of difficulty for those that have it. Following is my top 10 list of what everyone with IBS should know about this condition.

  1. IBS is not colitis. Colitis is a broad term that means that there is inflammation in the colon. Colitis can occur with any number of conditions, both chronic and self-limiting (including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, which are not related to IBS). With IBS, there is no inflammation in the colon, and diagnostic tests such as a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy will often not show any changes in the digestive tract.
  2. Symptoms of IBS can include:
  3. The following are NOT symptoms of IBS, and should be discussed with a doctor immediately:
  4. IBS is known as a functional disorder because no evidence of disease (such as inflammation or ulceration) will be found when diagnostic tests (such as colonoscopy, or upper GI) are done. A diagnosis of IBS is made only after other reasons for the symptoms, such as infection, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, which includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease), or colon cancer are ruled out.
  1. IBS does not lead to more serious conditions such as intestinal bleeding or colon cancer. Some people with IBD also have IBS, but having IBS does not lead to having IBD, or make having IBD any more likely. IBS is not a progressive disease: it does not get worse or lead to any damage in the intestinal tract.
  1. Some prescription medicines can help relieve IBS symptoms. For people who have predominantly constipating IBS, it is important to follow your doctors instructions when taking laxatives.  Some laxatives (and enemas) can be habit forming. Needing a laxative or an enema to move the bowels every time should not occur. A physician should be consulted in cases where a person can only have a bowel movement after using a stimulant because other treatments might be needed.
  2. Diet and stress do not cause IBS but they can be triggers that set off symptoms of IBS. Keeping to an IBS-friendly diet can also help cut down on the symptoms of diarrhea, constipation, and pain.
  3. IBS is not a condition that is "all in your head"! It's now understood that IBS is a disorder that causes the colon to be more sensitive to certain stimuli such as foods or medications. People with IBS often find that symptoms respond to diet changes as well as to stress reduction, hypnotherapy, and cognitive behavior therapy.
  4. Keeping a food diary can help people with IBS and their doctors narrow down potential trigger foods. Once triggers are found they can be avoided for a time, or perhaps indefinitely when needed. A good food and symptom diary can help pinpoint problems in order to avoid them in the future.
  1. Dietary fiber and eating smaller portions at mealtimes may help decrease IBS symptoms in some people. Finding trigger foods and eliminating them can help in narrowing down other triggers, like eating a big meal or eating too quickly.

A Word From Verywell

There is no cure for IBS, but through diet and lifestyle changes, along with  some help from a gastroenterologist or other health care professional, symptoms can be made more manageable. People with IBS may need to institute changes in their diet or consider bowel retraining in order to get a handle on symptoms. The good news is that there are many avenues of treatment to try for people who are living with IBS.

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