Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) What You Need to Know


Intestines, Bowel, Guts, Intestinal, Gastrointestinal

Facts – About IBS 

      • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders affecting between 25 and 45 million people in the United States. 
      • Globally, IBS affects 10-15% of the total population. 
      • The condition is more common among women. Almost two out of every three affected with the condition are females. 
      • IBS affects people of all ages including children and the elderly but is most common under the age of 50.
      • IBA accounts for up to 12% of the visits to the hospitals. 
      • 2.5-3.5 million people visit the doctor’s office annually due to IBS symptoms in the US only. 
      • Around 30-40% of visits to gastroenterologists are due to the symptoms of IBS. 
      • Unfortunately, many people do not recognize the symptoms of IBS.
      • Many people with the symptoms of IBS do not need medical care. 
      • Contrary to popular opinion, IBS is not Chrons Disease. Although the symptoms are similar, the reason for their initial existence is different.

What is IBS?

Crohn's Disease

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a medical condition characterized by a group of gastrointestinal conditions. The symptoms can include abdominal cramps, pain, discomfort, and bloating. It is also characterized by abnormal bowel movement which alters between diarrhea or/and constipation. 

Technically, IBS is considered a “functional” disorder because it affects the normal functioning of the digestive system. The core problem lies with the movement of the organs involved in digestion instead of damage to the tissues or internal lining of the digestive tract organs. 

Signs and Symptoms of IBS 

As mentioned earlier, IBS is a cluster of symptoms that are typically associated with abdominal discomfort. Other common signs and symptoms of IBS include:  

      • Diarrhea: In some cases, people have IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D). This means that they often have a sudden urge to have loose stools even when they do not have indigestion.
      • Constipation: Not all cases of IBS have diarrhea. Instead, there are some cases where IBS is accompanied by constipation. Such patients experience strained bowel movements and inconsistent stools. 
      • Bloating and gas
      • Abdominal cramps and swelling in the lower abdomen. 
      • Pain and discomfort associated with certain foods
      • Nausea and occasional vomiting. 
      • Loss of appetite
      • Weight loss 
      • Stools with inconsistent texture. 

Though indigestion is not a symptom of IBS, almost 70% of people with this condition also experience indigestion. Since the condition is more common among women, most of the symptoms intensify during the menstrual periods. 

Types of IBS 

According to the symptoms, IBS can be classified into four categories or types. 

IBS with Diarrhea

This specific type of IBS specifically affects the large intestine. As a result, patients of this condition experience frequent loose stools which is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. In some cases, people may also lose control over bowel movements. In such severe cases, treatment is essential to manage the symptoms of IBS. 

IBS with Constipation

This type of IBS usually affects young adults and adolescents. Stools are often very hard and the frequency is inconsistent. People with this type of IBS also commonly experience constipation. 

IBS with Constipation and Diarrhea 

Some people have mixed IBS which means that they have alternating patterns of diarrhea and constipation. 

Unsubtyped IBS 

Other symptoms of IBS which do not fit into the above three categories fall under this type known as unsubtyped IBS. 

What Causes IBS?

As of now the exact cause of IBS is still not known. Medical practitioners around the world agree that a number of factors contribute to this condition. Some of the factors include:

      • Altered pattern of movement of gastrointestinal organs
      • Abnormal signals to and from the brain
      • Changes insensitivity to pain and 
      • Food intolerance 

Some of the risk factors which increase the likelihood of developing IBS may include the following: 

      • Infections in the gastrointestinal tract including stomach, large and small intestines
      • Hormonal imbalance 
      • Certain psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression
      • In some cases, genetics may also contribute towards IBS Managing IBS 

IBS cannot be treated however, the symptoms can be managed by avoiding triggers and adopting a few lifestyle changes. 

IBS Triggers

Certain types of foods as well as stress and anxiety can trigger or intensify symptoms of IBS in some people. 


Red Peppers
Photo by 王小明 on Unsplash

Some of the common food ingredients which are often considered as IBS triggers include:  

        • Red peppers
        • Red wine 
        • Green Onion 
        • Wheat 
        • Cow Milk 

A better idea is to substitute these ingredients with other food items such as spinach, tofu, salmon, and broccoli, which are more stomach-friendly. 


According to research, stress and IBS are closely related. Stress increases the sensitivity of the colon and increases the movement of the organs of the gastrointestinal tract. Also, stress increases the risk of IBS because this condition is a result of a complex interaction between the brain and the stomach, and other organs of the digestive system. 

Lifestyle Changes to Improve the Symptoms of IBS 

Apart from avoiding triggers, bringing in a few lifestyle changes play an important role in improving the symptoms of IBS. Some of the tips to improve the symptoms of IBS include the following:

      • Reduce the intake of caffeine. 
      • Add more fibrous foods to your diet. 
      • Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water every day. 
      • Avoid the use of alcohol and tobacco. 
      • Reduce the intake of dairy products including cheese and milk. 
      • Eat smaller, more frequent meals instead of three large meals a day. 

In most cases, IBS can be managed by avoiding triggers and bringing about a few lifestyle changes. But many people may also require medical treatment. If you are one of those, make sure that you follow the instructions of your medical caregiver carefully.