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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is different than inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBS is a condition causing abdominal pain (often during bowel movements) and changes in your bowel movements, such as diarrhea or constipation. There is no visible damage to your digestive track, unlike with IBD.


The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain and changes to your bowel movements. A telltale sign of IBS is going back and forth between constipation and diarrhea. Symptoms can be triggered by different factors, including diet, lifestyle and stress. If people don’t control the stressors, IBS can cause chronic symptoms.

Risk factors

Doctors are not quite sure what causes IBS. It may be brought on by a bacterial or parasitic infection in the intestine. It may be related to how your brain and digestive system interact. But there are certain factors that may put people at a higher risk of developing IBS, including:

  • Experiencing stressful events earlier in life
  • Food intolerances which can affect the digestive system
  • Infections in the digestive tract
  • Having mental disorders such as depression or anxiety
  • Gender (women are twice as likely to develop IBS as men)

Detection and Diagnosis

Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam to diagnose IBS. Tests may also be performed, such as blood tests, stool cultures and a colonoscopy.

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There are several ways to treat the symptoms of IBS:

  • Dietary and lifestyle changes. Eating smaller meals, avoiding caffeine and increasing fiber intake may help. Also, getting regular exercise and getting enough sleep may reduce anxiety and stress and improve symptoms.
  • Medication. There are medications you can take to control diarrhea, constipation and intestinal pain. You can also take medications to control depression and anxiety.

To learn more about IBS, visit the National Institute of Health.

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