Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome can cause severe and sometimes disabling abdominal pain and bloating, and irregular bowel movements, including diarrhea.
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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects as many as one of every five Americans, women twice as often as men. When it strikes, it can cause severe and sometimes disabling abdominal pain and bloating, and irregular bowel movements, including diarrhea.
The Symptoms Of IBS
Remember, there is no perfect test to confirm IBS. This means a doctor should test you for other diagnoses that may cause similar symptoms, particularly if you have other symptoms that may be signs of a more dangerous medical illness. Many of the following symptoms may be experienced by IBS patients but may also occur with other conditions, such as colitis or colon cancer:
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Constipation alternating with diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Gas pain
  • Excessive flatulence
  • Increased belching
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Small stools (rabbit-like pellets) or flat, "ribbon" stools
People who are unfamiliar with IBS may not fully appreciate the pain it can cause, and because there is no blood test or X-ray to confirm the diagnosis, patients may understandably become frustrated. IBS is a diagnosis based on how well your symptoms fit, after testing has not revealed any other explanation. Because doctors commonly test for several other medical problems before naming IBS as your diagnosis, IBS is described by some experts as a diagnosis of exclusion.
The cause of IBS remains an area of research that does not have clear answers. Studies have shown that IBS patients have different patterns of intestinal motility (movement) than is normal, and people with IBS have unusually sensitive nerves along their intestine that may send more pain signals to the brain than is normal when the bowel is active, even though the bowel is functioning normally or near normally.
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Last updated February 03, 2010

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