What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an intestinal disorder that causes the following:
- crampy pain
- changes in bowel habits
IBS has inaccurately been called by many names, including the following:
- mucous colitis
- spastic colon
- spastic bowel
- functional bowel disease
IBS is called a functional disorder because there is no sign of disease when the colon is examined. Because physicians have been unable to find an organic cause, IBS often has been thought to be caused by emotional conflict or stress. While stress may worsen IBS symptoms, research suggests that other factors also are important.
IBS often causes a great deal of discomfort and distress, but it is not believed to:
- cause permanent harm to the intestines.
- lead to intestinal bleeding of the bowel.
- lead to a serious disease such as cancer.
It has not been shown to lead to serious, organic diseases, nor has a link been established between IBS and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
What causes irritable bowel syndrome?
The digestion and propulsion of nutrients and fluids through the gastrointestinal system (GI) is a very complicated and very well organized process. The GI tract has its own intrinsic muscles and nerves that connect, like an electrical circuit, to the spinal cord and brain. Neuromuscular events occurring in the GI tract are relayed to the brain through neural connections, and the response of the brain is also relayed back to the gastrointestinal tract. As a result of this activity, motility and sensation in the bowel is generated. An abnormality in this process results in a disordered propulsion of the intestinal contents, which generates the sensation of pain.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown. One theory is a person with IBS may have a colon that is more sensitive and reactive than usual, so it responds strongly to stimuli that would not affect others. The colon muscle of a person with IBS then begins to spasm after only mild stimulation or ordinary events such as the following:
- distention from gas or other material in the colon
- certain medications
- certain foods
Women with IBS seem to have more symptoms during their menstrual periods, suggesting that reproductive hormones can increase IBS symptoms.
Treatment for IBS:
Specific treatment for IBS will be determined by your physician based on:
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the condition
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the condition
- your opinion or preference