Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common problem with the intestines. In people with IBS, the intestines squeeze too hard or not hard enough and cause food to move too quickly or too slowly through the intestines. IBS usually begins around age 20 and is more common in women.
IBS is also called functional bowel syndrome, irritable colon, spastic bowel and spastic colon. It’s not the same as inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
The box to the right lists common symptoms of IBS. The symptoms may get worse when you’re under stress, such as when you travel, attend social events or change your daily routine. Your symptoms may also get worse if you don’t eat enough healthy foods or after you’ve eaten a big meal. Some people are bothered by certain foods. Women who have IBS may notice more frequent symptoms during their menstrual periods.
Common symptoms of IBS
- Bloating and gas.
- Mucus in the stool.
- Diarrhea, especially after eating or first thing in the morning.
- Feeling like you still need to have a bowel movement after you’ve already had one.
- Feeling a strong urge to have a bowel movement.
How is IBS diagnosed?
Your doctor may start by asking you questions about your symptoms. If your symptoms have had a pattern over time, the pattern may make it clear to your doctor that IBS is the cause.
If your symptoms have just started, something else may be the cause. Your doctor may need to do some tests, such as a blood test or colonoscopy, to make sure that your symptoms aren’t caused by something other than IBS.
How is IBS treated?
The best way to handle IBS is to eat a healthy diet, avoid foods that seem to make you feel worse and find ways to handle your stress.
Why may fiber be helpful?
Fiber can be helpful because it improves how the intestines work. There are 2 types of fiber:
- Soluble fiber helps both diarrhea and constipation. It dissolves in water and forms a gel–like material. Many foods contain soluble fiber such as apples, beans and citrus fruits. Psyllium, a natural vegetable fiber, is a also a soluble fiber. You can buy psyllium supplements (some brand names: Fiberall, Metamucil, Perdiem) to drink and you can add it to other foods.
- Insoluble fiber helps constipation by moving material through your digestive system and adding bulk to your stool. Insoluble fiber is in whole grain breads, wheat bran and many vegetables.