What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is a common though uncomfortable disorder of the colon or lower bowel. While the basic cause of IBS is unknown, researchers have found that the colon muscle in people with IBS contracts more readily than in people without IBS. Also, patients with IBS have a lower tolerance for pain. A number of factors can "trigger" IBS, including certain foods, medicines, and emotional stress. Some research has suggested that excess bacteria in the GI tract may contribute to symptoms.

The good news is that IBS is not a life-threatening condition. IBS does not make a person more likely to develop other colon conditions, such as colitis, Crohn's disease, or colon cancer. Yet, IBS can be frustrating because it can come and go throughout life.

What are other names for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) goes by many names. Some people call this condition "nervous stomach." Others call it "irritable bowel," "irritable colon," or "spastic colon." IBS gets the name "nervous stomach" because symptoms can occur at times of emotional stress, tension and anxiety.The condition most often occurs in people in their late teens to early forties. Women suffer from IBS more often than men, and it might affect more than one family member.

What are the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Some people think of IBS as the gut's response to stress in the world. Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pains or cramps, usually in the lower half of the abdomen
  • Excess gas
  • Harder or looser bowel movements than usual
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or an alternating pattern between the two

Because these symptoms can happen over and over, a person with IBS can feel stressed or saddened by his or her condition. These feelings often become less severe as the person gains control over IBS.

What causes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is a common disorder of the colon or lower bowel that affects both sexes but is more common in women. IBS most often occurs in people in their late teens to early forties.

The cause of IBS is not well understood. Possible causes include a change in motility of the colon, low-grade inflammation, or change in intestinal bacterial flora, along with genetic and environmental factors.

What are the risk factors for developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Risk factors for IBS include:

  • Family history of IBS
  • Emotional stress, tension, anxiety
  • Food intolerance
  • History of physical or sexual abuse

Does having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) mean I'm more likely to have serious gastrointestinal (GI) problems later in life?

Although this condition can be uncomfortable, it is not life-threatening. IBS does not make a person more likely to develop other colon conditions, such as colitis, Crohn's disease, or colon cancer.

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