Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder in which the bowels don't function as they should. They become very sensitive and then squeeze too hard or not hard enough, causing stools to move too quickly or too slowly through the intestines. IBS is also called "spastic colon" or "irritable colon."
IBS is not a contagious illness or life-threatening disease, but it is a real medical disorder that can cause painful symptoms and compromise a person's quality of life.
There is no cure for IBS. It is a chronic condition, but symptoms can be managed through medication, diet, stress relief techniques, fiber therapy and other approaches.
Anyone can develop IBS at any age, but IBS symptoms typically begin around age 20. Women seem to develop it more often. Four of five people with IBS are women.
IBS is affected by genetic, physical, emotional and lifestyle factors, but the exact cause isn't known. It may result from changes in the muscle function or nervous system signals between the brain and bowel, including reactions to stress, hormones and other factors.
Different people have different IBS symptoms. A person can have one symptom or several, from mild to severe. The most common symptoms are bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, mucus in the stool and abdominal pain. Some people with IBS also report depression and anxiety.
IBS symptoms can be triggered by many different factors. Certain foods and drinks can be triggers, including fried, fatty or spicy foods and caffeinated or carbonated beverages. Hormonal changes from menstruation, stress and certain medications also can bring on symptoms. No two people have the same set of IBS triggers.
People with IBS tend to develop a "cluster" of symptoms, but typically one is more bothersome or severe than the rest. The type of IBS a person has is based on the predominant or main symptom they experience, such as constipation, diarrhea and "alternating" or "mixed" constipation and diarrhea.
Only a doctor can diagnose IBS. Sometimes, pinpointing IBS as the cause of a person's symptoms is a process of ruling out other disorders or diseases that could be responsible. The diagnosis process can include discussions with your doctor, physical exams, medical tests and referrals to other health care professionals.
If you think you have IBS, take the self-assessment quiz on this site. If your symptoms are not ones usually associated with IBS, such as fever and weight loss, you may have another condition or illness. In either case, make an appointment with your doctor.
There is no method for avoiding triggers or alleviating symptoms that works for everyone. There is no perfect IBS medication or treatment, either. But you can put together an individualized plan, with your doctor's help, for managing and treating your IBS symptoms. Your plan can encompass diet, fiber therapy, medications, exercise, stress management and/or "alternative medicine" approaches.
Diet has a major impact on the type, frequency and severity of your IBS symptoms. Changing what, how much and when you eat, especially with input from your doctor and a dietitian, can help to reduce symptoms. Adding more fiber, for example, is one way to control IBS through diet.
The physical movements of exercise help to stimulate normal contractions in your intestines, which can minimize IBS symptoms. Regular exercise also can help to decrease physical and emotional tension, build confidence and provide social opportunities, which can prevent people coping with IBS from feeling isolated by their condition.
In people with IBS, the intestines seem to be extra sensitive to emotional or physical stress. Their tendency to "overreact" can trigger or worsen the digestive problems of IBS. The better you're able to manage stress, the more successful you can be in reducing the frequency or severity of your IBS symptoms. Information on stress management techniques is available to people who join the Living Well with IBS program.
Some alternative and complementary therapies have been used and studied as IBS treatments, such as acupuncture, hypnotherapy, herbs and supplements and probiotics. Talk to your doctor to get input on alternative therapies.
The Digestion-Friendly Recipe Center on this site offers recipes developed specially for people with IBS by a dietitian and physician. To get access to the center, join the free Living Well with IBS program on this site.
No medicine can cure IBS, but there are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications that can ease particular IBS symptoms. Medication options include drugs that relax the bowel muscles, slow down or bulk up stool, change how the body senses pain, prevent bacteria from growing in the bowel or stimulate intestinal nerves.
If you have questions about a drug that's recommended to you, talk to your doctor and pharmacist first. You also can research prescription and over-the-counter medications online. This site contains links to certain drug information sites.
Read our tips for talking to your doctor and other health care professionals about your questions and concerns. The tips are available to you when you become a member of the Living Well with IBS program on this site.
In addition to joining the Living Well with IBS program on this site, you can visit the Web sites of national IBS education organizations, medical associations, patient advocacy groups, medical centers and government agencies. Links to these kinds of resources are available on this site.
Visit the Web sites listed on our Resources page, and join our Living Well with IBS program on this site. As a member, you'll be able to access our News about IBS page, which compiles links to news articles about IBS.
Fiber is a natural component of many vegetables, fruits, beans, grains and nuts. Different plants contain different types of fiber, but they all contribute to a healthy digestive system.
Including more fiber in your diet can help you to control your IBS symptoms. Extra fiber from plant foods or fiber products can make your stools soft but firm -- and more comfortable to pass. If you have loose, watery stools from IBS, for example, fiber can firm them and "slow you down." If you have constipation, fiber can soften your stools and "speed you up." Citrucel's SmartFiber is proven to help restore and maintain regularity and it's the only fiber that won't ferment to cause excess gas.
If you've lived with a sensitive system for any length of time, you know there are no easy answers. And yet, so many people keep offering the same suggestion: fiber.
Fiber therapy products are an effective way to treat constipation and ensure regularity. Fiber adds bulk and texture to foods. As it passes through the body, fiber helps your system stay regular, and that's why many doctors recommend fiber to help manage constipation.
Normal, regular bowel movements can be difficult to define, because what's regular for someone else might not be regular for you. Some people go too frequently, some not enough. But Frequency isn't the only attribute to consider when determining if you are regular. The shape and consistency are also important. The shape should be sausage-like. And the ideal consistency ranges from soft and smooth to soft with a few cracks in the surface.
Fiber is a natural cleanser and regulator that prevents stools from becoming too loose, dry or hard. It absorbs up to 30 times its own weight in water, bulking up and softening other material in the digestive tract.
There are two types of fiber, both of which can promote regularity and are found in naturally healthy foods. Soluble fiber, the key ingredient in fiber therapy products, is found in oats, apples, barley and many other foods. It dissolves in water. Psyllium and methylcellulose are both soluble fibers, but methylcellulose does not ferment in the intestines and cause gas. Insoluble fiber is found in whole g rains, nuts and many vegetables. It does not dissolve in water.
Eat more fiber-rich foods such as breakfast cereals, vegetables, whole fruits, beans and whole grains. Add more fiber into your diet gradually, to let your body adjust. Even if you work hard to maintain a healthy diet, you still may not be getting enough fiber to notice an improvement in their IBS symptoms. That's why fiber products can be so valuable.
Fiber therapy is a treatment for constipation associated with IBS and other medical conditions that involves adding more fiber to your diet with fiber products like Citrucel with SmartFiber. The extra fiber those products deliver can change the shape and texture of stools for the better, which is why fiber therapy can be beneficial for people with constipation and diarrhea.
Doctors often recommend over-the-counter products made with plant fiber to treat IBS symptoms and other conditions. Fiber products are available in different flavors and forms, from traditional powders to "soft chews" to caplets.
Some are "dietary supplements" that can increase your fiber intake but have not been evaluated by the F.D.A. for their ability to treat a specific condition. Some, like Citrucel with SmartFiber, are "fiber laxatives" that add bulk and water to your stool to promote regularity.
Citrucel with SmartFiber is a fiber product that doctors often recommend for fiber therapy to people with IBS symptoms. Citrucel with SmartFiber helps to soften and add bulk to stools, which can help to control symptoms.
Citrucel with SmartFiber is 100% soluble fiber that does not ferment in the intestines, so it won't cause embarrassing excess gas*. Only Citrucel has SmartFiber - the fiber you need without the fiber effects you don't. It also dissolves completely in water and is non-allergenic and gluten-free. Citrucel with SmartFiber is also available in powder, sugar-free powder, caplet and soft chew products.
*Based on laboratory testing. Individual results may vary.