What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the large intestine (colon) that affects one in 10 people worldwide. IBS is also known as spastic colon, irritable colon, mucous colitis, and spastic colitis. It is a common condition that sees more than 200,000 cases per year in the United States. With IBS, the muscles in the colon may:

  • Contract strongly, resulting in bloating, gas, or diarrhea
  • Contract weakly, slowing the passage of food and resulting in hard stool

Unlike inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, IBS does not result in changes in bowel tissue or increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. However, IBS can disrupt your daily life and will need to be managed long term.  

What are the Causes of IBS?

The causes of IBS are unknown, but there are certain stimuli that may trigger symptoms of IBS. Although triggers may vary from person to person, they often include:

  • Certain illnesses – On occasion, another acute illness such as gastroenteritis or an overgrowth of bacteria can trigger IBS.
  • Foods – Many patients experience an increase in the severity of symptoms when certain foods are consumed, such as broccoli, milk, or carbonated beverages.
  • Hormones – Twice as many women as men have IBS and many of those women report severe symptoms around their menstrual cycles. Hormones may play a role in the condition.
  • Stress – Although it does not cause them, stress has been shown to aggravate symptoms of IBS. Physical or emotional stress increases catecholamine release, which are hormones produced by the adrenal glands that can increase motility. It can also exacerbate underlying processes that may be occurring, making intestinal spasms worse.

What Are the Risk Factors for IBS?

Risk factors for developing IBS include:

  • A family history of IBS – Patients with a family member living with the condition have an increased risk of developing it.
  • Age – IBS occurs more frequently in those under 45 years of age.
  • Gender – Women are twice as likely as men to have IBS.
  • Certain mental health conditions – Disorders such as anxiety, depression, or a history of abuse may contribute to IBS.

What are the Symptoms of IBS?

Just like triggers vary greatly from patient to patient, so do symptoms. Some people can control their symptoms by managing their diet, lifestyle, and stress levels. Only a small number of people with IBS experience severe symptoms. Common IBS symptoms include:

  • Backache
  • Bloating
  • Constipation (also known as IBS-C)
  • Diarrhea (also known as IBS-D)
  • Fatigue
  • Gas
  • Mucus in stool
  • Pain or cramping in the abdomen
  • Sleep issues not caused by other symptoms
  • Unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Urinary problems

How is IBS Diagnosed?

There is no specific test used to diagnose IBS. Your doctor will likely review your medical history and conduct a physical examination. In some cases, your doctor may order lab tests or perform a diagnostic procedure to rule out other conditions, such as celiac disease or colon cancer. Stool studies, for example, can be used to check for infection or issues with your intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Other tests may include:

What are the Treatments for IBS?

Since the cause of IBS is unknown, treatments focus more on relieving symptoms. In the majority of patients, mild symptoms can be fully managed with certain changes in diet and lifestyle. Dietary suggestions may include:

  • Eliminating gassy foods, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and carbonated beverages
  • Removing Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols (FODMAPs), such as fructose and lactose, since some patients may be sensitive to certain types of carbohydrates

As surgery is not performed for IBS, medication may be required for those with more severe symptoms. Medications may include:

  • Anti-diarrhea medications, like Imodium®
  • Antibiotics, in the event of infection or overgrowth of bacteria
  • Fiber supplements, such as Metamucil® or Citrucel® combined with fluids to control constipation
  • IBS-specific medication, such as Amitiza® to increase fluid in the small intestine and promote the passage of stool from IBS-C
  • Laxatives (should fiber supplements fail)
  • Linzess® to alleviate abdominal pain and accelerate bowel movements for patients with IBS-C
  • Lotronex® to relax the colon and slow the movement of waste through the lower portion of bowel for patients with IBS-D
  • Viberzi™ for reducing the occurrence of diarrhea and abdominal pain from IBS-D
  • Xifaxan® to reduce or alter the bacteria in the digestive tract to relieve bloating and diarrhea

IBS Specialists in New Jersey

Living with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, can be frustrating and challenging. Although there is no cure for IBS, our team of expert gastroenterologists at Digestive Healthcare Center will work directly with you to help control and improve symptoms. We offer a variety of tests and procedures, using state-of-the-art technology and minimally-invasive techniques, to accurately diagnose and treat patients of all ages. We will also ensure that your specific needs are met and your questions are answered throughout your care. Learn more about our services and procedures in NJ below. 

Diagnosis and Treatment of Gastroenterology Conditions in NJ at Digestive Healthcare Center

Whether you come see us in person at one of our three gastroenterology centers in Somerset County or you speak to one of our board-certified physicians via a telemedicine virtual visit, we make it our mission to provide the best possible gastroenterology care so you can live a healthier and more comfortable life. If you are experiencing symptoms that cause you discomfort or concern, please contact us today to schedule an appointment and get on track to better digestive health.

We apologize for the inconvenience, but we are having phone issues. We are working to quickly resolve this issue. Please feel free to utilize your patient portal to contact us. Thank you for your patience.