Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Complications, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

A women that holding her stomach because she have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)


The gastrointestinal tract plays a pivotal role in the body’s functions. It is where food is digested and the nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. The nutrients are distributed throughout the body to be converted into energy. When there is an illness affecting the gastrointestinal tract, it may cause disruptions in the digestive process.

The gastrointestinal tract has many parts, including the stomach, small intestine, and the large intestine. One of the common disorder affecting the large intestine or colon is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may cause a wide range of symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. This condition is long-term and can trigger bouts every now and then. The symptoms tend to appear intermittently, with periods lasting a few days to a few months at a time.

In the past, irritable bowel syndrome has been called many names, including IBS colitis, spastic colon, spastic bowel, nervous colon, and mucous colitis. Health experts changed the name of the illness to irritable bowel syndrome to include the fact that the condition has both mental and physical causes.

In the United States, about 10 to 15 percent of the adults are affected by IBS. However, only 5 to 7 percent were diagnosed with IBS. The condition affects twice as many women as men. Most cases occur in people who are younger than 45 years old.


The signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may vary from one person to another. IBS symptoms are usually worse after eating and they come and go in episodes. These may also resemble the symptoms of other diseases. The main symptoms of IBS include:

  • Feeling bloated
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Gas
  • Mucus in stool
  • Diarrhea or constipation or both
  • Occasionally feeling the urgency to go to the toilet
  • A feeling that the bowel has not been fully emptied even after going to the toilet

Additional signs and symptoms:

In addition to the main symptoms, some patients may experience additional signs and symptoms such as:

  • Feeling sick
  • Back pain
  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Bladder problems like waking up to urinate and experiencing the urgent need to urinate
  • Having a hard time emptying the bladder
  • Dyspareunia or pain during sex
  • Incontinence
  • In some cases, feelings of depression and anxiety


The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is still unclear but a variety of factors play a role in its development. The intestinal walls have layers of muscles that line them and contract or relax to move the food from the stomach and throughout the gastrointestinal tract, which is dubbed as peristalsis.

In this condition, however, the contractions are more robust and stronger than normal. This leads to bloating, diarrhea and flatulence.

Abnormalities in the gastrointestinal nervous system – The abnormalities in the gastrointestinal nervous system may lead to the patient experiencing discomfort when the abdomen stretches from stool or gas. These badly coordinated signals between the intestines and the body’s control center, the brain, can make the body overreact to the changes in the digestive process, which normally occurs. As result, the symptoms of IBS appear.

Digestive problems – Normally, the body moves the food through the digestive system by relaxing and contracting the muscles of the intestines. This rhythmic way is termed as peristalsis. When you have IBS, however, this process is altered, leading to the fast or slow movement of the food through the intestinal tract. This leads to diarrhea and the other symptoms of IBS.

Heightened gut sensitivity – The intestinal tract contains many nerves that relay the signals to the brain, making the body detect hunger or when the person is full. Some health experts believe that in IBS, the body’s gastrointestinal tract becomes oversensitive to the digestive nerve signals. This results in indigestion and stomach pain in IBS.

Psychological problems – Some studies have linked psychological factors in the development of IBS. However, this does not mean that the condition and its symptoms are just in the mind because the symptoms are real. However, experts believe that intense emotional states like anxiety and stress may trigger certain chemical changes that may alter the normal function of the GI tract.

Common Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Triggers

Some factors may trigger IBS, including:

Infection – An infection in the gastrointestinal tract, such as a gastroenteritis, may result in persistent bowel symptoms, even though the pathogen has been eradicated.

Food – The link between a food allergy or intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome is still unclear, but many people may have the symptoms once they ear certain foods. This has been linked to the impaired absorption of the sugar called lactose. Other sugars have also been suggested to cause IBS symptoms, particularly fructose.

Many other foods have been linked to IBS like spices, fats, chocolate, fruits, beans, cauliflower, cabbage, soda, milk, and alcohol.

Emotional stress – Strong or intense emotions like stress and anxiety can affect the intestinal nerves.

Medications – Some medicines like antacids, painkillers and antibiotics may cause constipation or diarrhea.

Hormones – Hormonal changes were linked to IBS because some women are twice as likely to have the condition. Moreover, many women have their symptoms of IBS during their menstrual periods.

Other diseases – Other conditions may trigger IBS, including gastroenteritis or bacterial overgrowth in the intestines.

4Risk Factors

Though the exact cause of IBS is still unknown, there are factors that may raise one’s risk of developing IBS including:

  • Age – IBS tends to occur in people who are less than 45 years old
  • Genetics – IBS may run in families. If you have a family member with the condition, there is an increased risk that you’ll have it, too.
  • Gender – Women are twice as more likely to develop IBS.
  • Mental health problems – Some psychological condition such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorder may lead to IBS.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may cause diarrhea and constipation. As a result, these symptoms may trigger the formation of hemorrhoids. Moreover, due to the frequent changes in bowel patterns and schedules, the patient may also develop malnutrition.

The other complications of IBS include:

  • Poor quality of life
  • Missed days in school and work
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Malnutrition


There is no specific test for IBS, but the diagnosis depends on a complete medical history and physical examination. The doctor will ask certain questions about the symptoms, family history, and personal history. Moreover, the doctor is tasked to perform a complete physical examination.

The doctor will use criteria for making a diagnosis. These criteria will help rule out other conditions.

Rome criteria –These criteria mean that some signs and symptoms should be present before the diagnosis of IBS. Abdominal pain lasting three days to about a month in the last here months should be present, including two or more of the following: disrupted frequency of stool, altered consistency of stool and improvement of the passage of stool.

Manning criteria – these criteria concentrate on the pain that has been relieved by defecation, mucus in the stool, incomplete bowel movements and changes in the consistency of stools.


Irritable bowel syndrome can’t be cured with special diets and certain medicines. The best way to prevent this condition is to avoid the triggers. In most cases, the mild signs and symptoms of IBS can be managed. Avoid the triggers and live a healthy lifestyle.

Dietary changes – Dietary changes will help relieve the symptoms of the disease. Some dietary changes include eliminating high-gas foods and cutting down on gluten.

Medications – There are medicines that can be taken to resolve IBS which includes fiber supplements, antispasmodic drugs, anti-diarrheal drugs, antidepressants, and antibiotics. The medication specifically for IBS includes alosetron and lubiprostone.

Other treatments – Other treatment options include reducing stress, engaging in exercise, getting probiotics and therapies like psychotherapy.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) isn’t preventable but there are proper self-care that may help relieve the symptoms. Here are preventive measures for irritable bowel syndrome.

Biofeedback – This technique is used to reduce the stress levels. Also, it helps relax you through reducing the muscle tension and slowing the heart rate.

Counseling – For people having other mental health issues, it is important to talk with a doctor or psychologist to help you learn on how to effectively reduce stress.

Deep breathing – Deep breathing helps you relax and practice the abdominal cavity, which is responsible for the peristaltic movement of the colon.

Progressive relaxation exercises – This type of exercises help you relax, particularly the various muscle groups.

Mindful training – This helps reduce stress by letting you focus on being in the moment.

Other ways – There are other ways to reduce stress reading, music or playing computer games. Get more exercise and do not live a sedentary life. Moreover, avoid trigger foods, engage in regular exercise, eat a well-balanced diet and find a support group.

Food – Fatty foods are linked to diarrhea in people with IBS.

Drugs – Talk with your doctor regarding the side effects of certain medicines. These are linked to developing the condition. Also, try to avoid the most serious cases with chronic exercise and eating regularly.