Irritable Bowel Syndrome
04/07/2003

On occasion, we all experience abdominal pain or discomfort, but when the discomfort is recurring and affects your daily lifestyle, it’s time to talk to your health care provider. You might have irritable bowel syndrome or IBS.

IBS is a disturbance of colonic function characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating and abnormal bowel function resulting in episodes of chronic diarrhea, chronic constipation or both in alternation according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD). 

Sufferers have unusually sensitive and active nerve endings in the lining of the bowel that trigger inappropriate muscle activity, resulting in episodes of diarrhea, constipation or both. Their colons tend to be more sensitive and more reactive than normal and spasms occur when certain medicines and foods are ingested.

Although the exact cause of IBS is unknown, researchers think that diet and stress play a large role. According to the IFFGD, eating causes contractions of the colon and the strength of the contractions is often related to the amount of fat in a meal. Fat is a strong stimulus of colonic contractions after a meal. IBS sufferers who eat healthy fiber-enriched diets experience fewer IBS symptoms.

Since the colon is controlled partly by the central nervous system, stress stimulates colonic spasms in IBS sufferers. The IFFGD recommends sufferers seek stress reduction training or counseling from a health care professional.

IBS affects an estimated 25 to 50 million men, women and children in the United States. There’s no known cure for IBS, but there are various treatments available. If you experience symptoms of IBS, talk with your health care provider.