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Home > Services > Digestive Health > Digestive Conditions > Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the intestines. IBS does not cause inflammation, nor does it lead to a more serious condition.

With IBS, the muscles in the colon do not work normally and may spasm. If you have IBS, your intestines may be more sensitive, reacting strongly to abdominal gas, food and medication. 


These factors increase your chance of developing IBS:

  • Sex: female
  • Family members with IBS
  • Age: typically begins in young adulthood
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Abuse 
  • Intestinal infection

IBS Symptoms

Symptoms usually come and go, and range from mild to severe. They include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Gas and bloating
  • Pain that resolves with a bowel movement
  • Loose stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Alternating diarrhea and constipation
  • Urge to move bowels again immediately following a bowel movement
  • Mucus in the stool

These factors may worsen your symptoms:

  • Stress
  • Menstrual periods
  • Large meals or fatty foods
  • Excess gas

Your doctor may perform blood and stool tests to rule out other conditions. Your provider may also may also perform a colonoscopy and test you for celiac disease.


Currently, no cure exists for IBS. Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms.


Work with your doctor to track your diet and make changes. Consider:

  • Keeping a food diary 
  • Avoiding foods that have caused problems in the past
  • Avoiding 
    • High-fat foods
    • Spicy foods
    • Dairy products
    • Onions, cabbage and other gas-producing food
    • Large amounts of alcohol or caffeine
  • Eating fruits and vegetables
  • Increasing your intake of whole grains
  • Reducing your meal/portion sizes
  • Drinking plenty of water


Participating in a regular exercise program can help improve bowel function and other IBS symptoms. If you would like to start exercising, check with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough.

Stress Management

Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce stress, such as:

  • Relaxation
  • Biofeedback
  • Counseling


Learn as much as you can about IBS and ways that you can reduce your symptoms. You may also find it helpful to join a support group.

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend one or more medicines for pain, diarrhea and constipation, including:

  • Antispasmodic agent 
  • Antibiotics 
  • Fiber or bulking agent 
  • Antidiarrheal agent 
  • Probiotics 
  • Peppermint oil

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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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