Dr. M.J. Bazos, Patient Handout
About Your Diagnosis
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disease affecting the intestine. It is also called spastic colon or colitis. The cause of IBS is not known, but stress and emotions are thought to play a role. Irritable bowel syndrome is a common disorder, affecting up to 15% of the population. Most individuals generally begin having symptoms in their early 20s. Many of these individuals never see a doctor about their complaints.The diagnosis of IBS is made by eliminating other causes. Other causes of abdominal pain and changing bowel habits must be ruled out before making the diagnosis of IBS. This means laboratory studies must be done. Procedures such as a barium enema x-ray or flexible sigmoidoscopy (a lighted flexible instrument used to examine the lower part of the colon) are sometimes done to exclude other causes. This disease is not curable. It is usually recurrent throughout life. The symptoms can be managed with diet, medications, and lifestyle changes. It does not appear that IBS causes other conditions such as cancer.

Living With Your Diagnosis
The main symptoms of IBS are episodes of abdominal pain and changing bowel habits. These episodes can last for days to months. The abdominal pain is described as crampy and does not occur in any particular location. Other symptoms such as indigestion, heartburn, and bloating occur less frequently. Rarely nausea and vomiting occur. The pain generally begins after meals and is relieved by bowel movements. The changing bowel habits may involve diarrhea, constipation, or periods of both. With constipation, the bowel movement may be “pelletlike” or in small balls. The diarrhea may have mucus in it.

The treatment of IBS focuses on lifestyle and dietary changes. A high fiber diet is the mainstay of treatment. Fiber supplements are helpful if used on a regular basis. Increased gas and bloating may occur for the initial 2 weeks of fiber supplements and generally resolve with time. Constipating agents such as loperamide (Imodium) will relieve diarrhea symptoms. Antispasmodics will help with abdominal cramping.

The DOs
• See your physician; the symptoms may be from another condition.
• Maintain proper eating habits, and select foods carefully.
• Stop smoking.
• Increase fiber in the diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are good sources, but be careful because they can cause gas and bloating. Psyllium-containing products are also good sources of fiber.
• Heat to the abdomen may help the pain and cramping.
• Try to reduce stress. Biofeedback might help.
• Maintain proper physical fitness.

The DON’Ts
• Avoid large meals.
• Avoid spicy, fried, and fatty foods.
• Avoid milk products.
• Avoid alcohol.

When to Call Your Doctor
• If fever develops.
• If there is blood in the stool or the stool is black and tarry.
• If vomiting develops.
• If unexplained weight loss occurs.
• If symptoms do not improve with treatment.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse