Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, chronic disorder that affects the colon, or large intestine, causing symptoms like gas and bloating, abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea or constipation (and often both) and mucus in the stool. Not everyone will have the same symptoms. Unlike inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), IBS does not cause changes in the lining of the bowel, nor does it increase the risk of developing colon cancer.
The specific cause of IBS is not known, but researchers do know the bowel contractions in people with IBS are different compared to those of people who don't have the disorder. Other studies have suggested abnormalities in nerve pathways that serve the gastrointestinal tract may also play a role in IBS. When the signals along these pathways are disrupted or don't flow normally, nerves can overreact to normal signals and motions, resulting in pain and diarrhea or constipation.
IBS has been associated with several risk factors, including:
younger age (under age 45)
chronic anxiety or depression
family history of IBS
Family history of IBS may be related to genetic factors, or it may be due to environmental exposures that are common to multiple family members.
There is no single cure for IBS. Instead, treatment focuses on lifestyle changes to help avoid foods and other potential triggers like chronic stress that can cause symptoms to occur. Being more physically active on a regular basis, getting enough rest and drinking lots of fluids may also help. When lifestyle changes aren't enough, medications may be prescribed. These can include fiber supplements, diarrhea medication, antidepressants, antispasmodic medications or medications specifically developed for IBS.
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