The most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) include pain or discomfort in your abdomen and changes in how often you have bowel movements or how your stools look. The pain or discomfort of IBS may feel like cramping and have at least two of the following:
- Your pain or discomfort improves after a bowel movement.
- You notice a change in how often you have a bowel movement.
- You notice a change in the way your stools look.
IBS is a chronic disorder, meaning it lasts a long time, often years. However, the symptoms may come and go. You may have IBS if:
You’ve had symptoms at least three times a month for the past 3 months.
Your symptoms first started at least 6 months ago.
People with IBS may have diarrhea, constipation, or both. Some people with IBS have only diarrhea or only constipation. Some people have symptoms of both or have diarrhea sometimes and constipation other times. People often have symptoms soon after eating a meal.
Other symptoms of IBS are
- The feeling that you haven’t finished a bowel movement
- Whitish mucus in your stool
Women with IBS often have more symptoms during their menstrual periods.
While IBS can be painful, IBS doesn’t lead to other health problems or damage yourgastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Despite the tendency to order diagnostic tests in the face of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, the diagnostic criteria for IBS, such as those supported by the Rome Committee, encourage clinicians to make a positive diagnosis on the basis of validated symptom criteria, and emphasize that IBS is not a diagnosis of exclusion, despite the extensive list of other conditions that masquerade as IBS.
The current Rome guidelines for IBS state that IBS can be diagnosed in the absence of 'alarm features,' and is 'often properly diagnosed without testing.'
Your doctor may suggest a blood test to check for Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) if you are experiencing diarrhea or diarrhea and constipation (a positive test should be confirmed by a biopsy). Unless there are "warning" signs this is generally all that is needed to diagnose IBS.
IBS cannot be cured with medications or special diets. The primary preventative measure is to identify and avoid individual triggers. Treatment options may include:
- A modest increase in dietary fibre, together with plenty of clear fluids
- Reducing or eliminating common gas-producing foods, such as beans and cabbage
- Reducing or eliminating dairy foods, if lactose intolerance is a trigger
- Antidiarrhoea medication, such as imodium or lomotil – these can be an essential part of management in those with diarrhoea-predominant IBS
- Pain-relieving medication – opiates such as codeine can provide effective pain relief. One of their most common side effects, constipation, may also relieve the diarrhoea of diarrhoea-predominant IBS
- Treatments to treat constipation
- Antispasmodic drugs, which may ease cramping – examples include mebeverine, belladonna, hyoscine and peppermint oil capsules
- Tricyclic antidepressants – these can be effective in treating the pain of IBS, but are best prescribed for a trial period with monitoring of symptoms. Use of these medications does not mean that IBS is caused by depression
- Stress management, if stress seems to be triggering the attacks
- Establishing eating routines and avoiding sudden changes of routine.