1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

What Is IBS?


Updated July 11, 2014

What Is IBS?
Photo: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

What Is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder that many people have, but few people talk about. It is estimated that IBS affects up to 15% of the population with its symptoms of chronic abdominal pain and major disturbance of bowel functioning. IBS can entail bouts of urgent diarrhea, episodes of chronic constipation, or a pattern of alternating between the two. IBS is considered a functional disorder, in that it involves a malfunction in how the intestinal system works, but doesn’t show up in any visible disease process or tissue damage. If you have IBS, you know first hand how intense the disorder can be and how it can cause significant disruption in the ability to attend to the tasks of daily life.

Click here to read more about the symptoms of IBS...

What Causes IBS?

Researchers are not yet quite clear why people develop IBS. Often the disorder manifests itself following a severe bout of gastroenteritis, otherwise known as the stomach flu. Sometimes symptoms appear after the experience of an extremely stressful event. A high incidence of IBS in seen in adults who were the victim of sexual or physical abuse in childhood. As you can see, stress and IBS often go hand in hand, but the relationship is not yet fully understood. Researchers are looking at dysfunction in the communication systems of the gut and the brain, as well as the role of gut bacteria in the onset and maintenance of IBS symptoms.

Click here to read more about research into the causes of IBS...

What Else Could It Be?

IBS is diagnosed after other disorders have been ruled out through routine diagnostic testing. The following are some of the health conditions that your doctor will want to rule out:

Click here to read more about other possible diagnoses…

How Is IBS Treated?

Individuals with IBS frequently feel as if they have lost control of their life and they just want to “feel normal” again. Although IBS does tend to have a chronic course, there are many interventions that have been shown to significantly reduce the frequency, severity and duration of symptoms:

Click here to read more about IBS treatment...

Essential Reading from Dr. Bolen, Your IBS Expert:


JAMA Patient Page: Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The Journal of the American Medical Association (2006) 295:960.

Neal, K., Hebden, J. and Spiller, R. 1997. Prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms six months after bacterial gastroenteritis and risk factors for the development of the irritable bowel syndrome: postal survey of patients. British Medical Journal 314:779-783.

Whitehead, W.E., Crowell, M.D., Robinson, J.C., Heller, B.R. and Schuster, M.M. (1992) W E Whitehead, M D Crowell, J C Robinson, B R Heller, and M M Schuster. Effects of stressful life events on bowel symptoms: subjects with irritable bowel syndrome compared with subjects without bowel dysfunction. Gut 33: 825 - 830.

Drossman, D.A., Leserman, J., Nachman, G., Li, Z., Gluck, H., Toomey, T.C., and Mitchell, C.M. (1990) Sexual and physical abuse in women with functional or organic gastrointestinal disorders. Annals of Internal Medicine 113:828-833.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.