What is IBS?

ibsIBS is the most common chronic intestinal condition and affects around 15% of Americans It can range from a mild annoyance to a severe and debilitating disease. IBS is the most common disorder diagnosed by gastroenterologists.

IBS is a syndrome and its diagnosis is based on excluding major physical causes for intestinal pain. It is considered to be a functional disorder, meaning that the usual range of tests such as CT-scans or colonoscopies show no sign of obvious structural problems and blood tests appear normal.

IBS affects women more frequently than men: Approximately 60% of IBS sufferers are female. In addition, because women also have reproductive organs that are in the belly, IBS encourages a significant number of unnecessary hysterectomy or ovarian surgeries.

IBS is characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort and altered bowel habit, which typically involves chronic or recurrent diarrhea, constipation, or a mixture of these. Pain may include feelings of cramping or spasming of the gut, or bloating and trapped gas, or soreness or significantly increased sensation of material moving within the gut. It may include chaotic intestinal motion and feelings of fullness or slow clearance of the gut. It can also co-occur with headaches, anxiety, depression, and systemic feelings of fatigue.

The symptoms of IBS may severely affect a person’s life. Chronic pain and unpredictable bowel habits negatively impact planning, interpersonal relationships, and work efficiency, and lead to increased coping stress. Stress is not thought to be the ultimate cause of IBS, but due to the connections between the nervous systems of the gut and the brain, stress, anxiety, and IBS symptoms can inter-relate.

IBS sufferers must contend with the tendency for people to believe that IBS is all in the head. Commonly they are told to just relax, get more exercise, and ignore the problem. But IBS is a real disease that involves functional changes in the gut and can result in pain which is overwhelming, as well as unpredictable bouts of diarrhea which may make it difficult to leave the house.

An issue with IBS is that it is a diagnosis of exclusion and is really just a name given to any gastrointestinal symptoms of unknown cause. This means that IBS is potentially a mix of different illnesses that are all given the same name. Therefore there may be multiple causes of IBS for different people. This makes research on IBS more difficult because potential tests or cures may not work in all patients.

In this web site I explore many possible causes of IBS and related ailments, list the relevant diagnostic tests, and describe potential therapies.