Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Some time ago I received a letter from one of the readers. It had multiple questions. So here are the questions and appropriate answers.

Q. Please describe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Is it constipation or diarrhea?

Irritable bowel syndrome is the most common chronic intestinal disorder. The symptoms are due to disturbance in the movement and sensation of the bowel. The person is otherwise well but presents with chronic or recurrent abdominal pain, change in bowel habit (constipation and/or diarrhea) and bloating.

Literature suggests at least 15 percent of the population has this condition. I feel that almost everybody has some element of irritable bowel syndrome.

It affects twice as many women as men and usually begins in early adult life. Although IBS can cause much distress, it does not lead to life-threatening illness. It is also called spastic colon.

Q. What can you do for it?

First, you have to see a doctor and get some basic investigations done to rule out any other illness like infection in the bowel, cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease. Anemia, rectal bleeding and loss weight are not symptoms of IBS.

There is no cure for IBS. However, controlling the diet and emotional stress usually relieves the symptoms. Sometimes symptoms come and go. Some medicines may also help.

IBS is like arthritis of the gut. Just as in arthritis, your doctor may have to try more than one medication to control your symptoms.

Q. Early in spring, I had diarrhea for two weeks. Things settled down a lot since. I have a lot of gas and grumbling. Could this be due to stress?

That is quite possible. Stress plays a significant negative role in many of our illnesses. But before you blame everything on stress, you should talk to your doctor and let him decide the cause of your “back door trots”.

The subject of irritable bowel syndrome has been covered in these columns previously. These columns are available on my web site: Or you can pick up a copy of the relevant article from my office.

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