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What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Group of symptoms linked to colon issues
 
Published Monday, April 15, 2013 9:00 am
by Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity

We see lots of commercials for products designed to address digestive system issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, but few commercials describe actually what IBS means, and for most of us, IBS is not a topic we are very comfortable talking about. According to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases, IBS is a “syndrome,” meaning a group of symptoms.


The most common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain or discomfort, cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation. IBS affects the colon, or large bowel, which is the part of your digestive tract that stores waste. For some reason, in people who have IBS, their colon does not work properly, which causes these symptoms.

What causes IBS?
Doctors and other experts are not sure exactly what causes IBS, but, for those people who have the syndrome, it seems that the nerves and muscles that control digestion are more sensitive than those without IBS. This may cause the colon to be more sensitive to certain foods or food groups, that can be triggers for certain people. It is important to know that IBS by itself does not damage the colon or lead to other health issues.

How is IBS diagnosed?
If you think you have IBS, it is important to see your doctor so you can receive the correct diagnosis. Most of the time irritable bowel syndrome is diagnosed by your symptoms, but these symptoms can also occur in more serious health conditions such as colon cancer and Crohn’s disease.  Your doctor may want to do tests like a lower gastrointestinal (GI) series, which is a group of x-rays performed to look at your colon in detail, or a colonoscopy, in which you are sedated and a long thin tube with a camera on it is used to look at the inside of your colon.

What are the treatments for IBS?
Currently, there is not a cure for IBS, but there are things you can do to control and lessen the symptoms. Most often, this includes changing your diet and reducing your stress level. Some foods that may worsen IBS are fatty foods, dairy, chocolate, carbonated drinks (like soda), and alcohol. There are foods that can help with IBS symptoms as well, especially those high in fiber, like apples, broccoli, whole grains, and beans.

You can also look into fiber supplements, but it is important to discuss these with your doctor before you begin taking them. Stress has been shown to be a factor that can worsen IBS symptoms for some people, so lowering your stress level is also important. Some good ways to lower your stress level are regular exercise, meditation, yoga, and counseling.


The best way to identify things that trigger or worsen your IBS symptoms is by keeping a journal of what you eat and when you eat it. This can help you determine the foods to which your colon may be sensitive or that cause your colon to not work properly. Talking with your doctor about your journal and your symptoms can help him or her develop a plan for you. There are some medications that can help with IBS if dietary changes and reducing stress are not enough to relieve your symptoms. You should talk with your doctor about these medications and if they are right for you.


Do you need further information or have questions or comments about this article? Call toll-free 1-877-530-1824. Or, for more information about the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, visit website: http://www.wakehealth.edu/MACHE.

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