What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder characterized most commonly by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

As its name indicates, Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a syndrome. That is, IBS is a combination of signs and symptoms, but not a disease. IBS is classified as a functional disorder. A functional disorder refers to a condition where the primary abnormality is an altered physiological function (the way the body works), rather than an identifiable inflammatory, infectious, structural, or biochemical cause.
Research also indicates that IBS is a multi-faceted disorder. For example, the symptoms of IBS result from what seems to be a disturbance or imbalance in the interaction between the intestines, the brain, sensory function, and the autonomic nervous system that alters regulation of bowel motility (motor function).

While IBS will probably recur throughout your life, and may also cause you a lot of pain and discomfort, there is some good news. The symptoms of IBS will probably not get much worse after the first year. In fact, as you learn to manage the symptoms, you will hopefully attain a more comfortable life. In addition, IBS does not cause cancer or permanent damage to the bowel. IBS does not cause intestinal bleeding. Finally, IBS does not require surgery, and it won’t shorten your life.

In the western world, Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a very common condition, affecting 15% to 20% of the population, and accounting for approximately 10% of all doctor visits and 50% of all visits to gastroenterologists.

Two thirds of the patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome are women. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the second biggest cause for people taking “sick days”.

For most people, the signs and symptoms of IBS are mild. Only a small percentage of people have severe signs and symptoms, so there are many people who don’t even realize that they are suffering from this condition. However, the symptoms of IBS range in severity from an occasional mild episode to a debilitating, life altering illness, which prevents the individual from working or from functioning normally. During times when the symptoms are severe, IBS can cause a lot of pain and be quite disabling.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is also know under various other names, such as:

  • colitis
  • irritable colon
  • mucous colitis
  • nervous stomach
  • spastic bowel
  • spastic colon

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not as serious as some intestinal diseases such as Ulcerative Colitis, Colorectal Cancers and Crohn’s Disease. For example, Irritable Bowel Syndrome does not permanently damage the intestines, nor does it cause inflammation or changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colon or rectal cancer.

In many cases, the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be controlled by managing your diet, lifestyle, and stress.

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