Health Guide

Irritable bowel syndrome

What is it?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is also called spastic colon or mucous colitis. It is a common problem of the bowel (intestines). With IBS, food does not move through the bowel normally. The food may be pushed through the bowel too slowly or too quickly. The bowel is the long tube that connects the stomach with the anus. The anus is the opening where bowel movements (BM) pass from the body. With IBS, the normal contractions of the bowel are painful.

IBS is more common in people under 35 years. Women get IBS more than men. You may have it on and off during your lifetime but symptoms sometimes go away as you age. IBS cannot be cured but it can be controlled.


It is not known for sure what causes IBS. Following are possible causes of IBS:

  • The bowel does not work correctly. The muscle contractions in the bowel may not be normal. A contraction is the gentle squeezing motion of the bowel to move food through the digestive system.
  • Stress, anxiety, and depression may cause changes in how fast or slow the bowel moves.
  • Eating certain foods may also change the speed at which your bowel moves food. Some foods may make your symptoms worse.

Signs and Symptoms:

The signs and symptoms of IBS may come and go any time. You may have one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Abdominal (belly) bloating and gas.
  • Lower abdominal pain and cramps that may be worse after eating and better or gone after having a BM.
  • Diarrhea (loose runny BMs) or constipation (hard formed BMs) or both. You may feel like you need to pass more BM even though you just finished having a BM.

Wellness Recommendations:

Try to decrease the stress in your life as it can make your IBS symptoms worse. Aerobic exercise is a good way to reduce stress.

Medical Care:

  • Antispasmodic medicines can decrease cramps and spasms in the bowel. This medicine may cause dry mouth, sleepiness, or other side effects.
  • Antianxiety medicines may be helpful to control anxiety or emotional stress. This medicine may also be habit forming.
  • Other medicines may be used to decrease gas, diarrhea, or constipation.

Dietary Measures:

  • Eating high fiber foods may control your symptoms. Fiber tends to decrease constipation and diarrhea. Some patients complain that eating high fiber foods causes more bloating, cramping, and gas. This is more likely to be a problem if there are sudden changes in the diet. Due to the problems that may happen in IBS with high fiber diets, it is best to make these changes slowly.
  • Do not eat foods that cause diarrhea, cramping, or make your BMs too hard or too runny. Keep a daily food diary. Slowly begin to remove one food at a time from your diet to learn if it is causing problems. You may do better eating some foods that are cooked rather than eating them raw. Some food may be tolerated alone but not when combined with other foods.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the medicine label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.



      Complementary Therapies:

      Research has shown that acupuncture, biofeedback, and hypnosis can decrease IBS symptoms.

      Recommended Screening Tests/Exams:

      Your BM may need to be tested for blood, abnormal bacteria, or parasites. You may also have blood tests and bowel x-rays.

      Other ways of treating your symptoms : Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

      Talk to your caregiver if:

      • You would like medicine to treat IBS.
      • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
      • You have questions about what you have read in this document.


      • You see bright red flecks in your BMs or your BMs are black.

      Care Agreement:

      You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


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      Last Updated: 7/4/2018
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