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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Disease Summary:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of bowel function as opposed to being caused by an anatomic or microscopic abnormality.  IBS is common and occurs more frequently in women.  It is not associated with serious medical problems and it is not a risk factor for other gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or colon cancer.  However, irritable bowel syndrome does effect the quality of life of those who suffer from it.  Symptoms of IBS include abdominal bloating, abdominal cramping, and a change in bowel habits.  There may also be mucus in the stools.  Some may have constipation, while others have diarrhea, and some alternate between diarrhea and constipation.  IBS usually begins as an adolescent or early adulthood.  Symptoms may vary and can be exacerbated by stressful situations.  The exact cause of IBS is not known.  The symptoms of IBS can be treated with a combination of diet, medications, and stress management.


Even though IBS does not lead to more significant gastrointestinal diseases, the symptoms may be similar to celiac disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or even colon cancer.  There are no definitive tests to diagnose IBS.   If symptoms are typical for IBS, treatment may be started without testing. However, if there is any reason for concern, tests may be done to exclude other conditions.  Some of these tests might include an upper endoscopy, colonoscopy, radiographic studies including CT scan (computerized tomography), and blood tests.  There is no cure for IBS, so the goal of medical treatment is to reduce the predominant symptom, and improve quality of life.

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