Open Accessibility Menu

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Your Embarrassing Questions Answered

Published in Gastroenterology, For the Health of It Author: Charles Ulrich,MD
Just because you have discomfort in your bowels—your colon and large intestines—from time to time doesn't mean you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Here's what you should know about IBS that you've may have been too embarrassed to ask.

Who can get IBS?

IBS affects up to one in five people; that's nearly 20 percent of people worldwide. Though it can affect people of any age, it most often begins in teen or young adulthood years. More women than men have IBS.

How do I know if I have IBS?

IBS symptoms include cramping, gas, bloating, mucus in the stool and frequent changes in your bowel patterns. Some people with IBS may experience constipation or infrequent stools that are hard and painful; others my have frequent loose stools like diarrhea. Symptoms can vary overtime and may even seem as if they've gone away before flaring up again.

IBS is usually diagnosed after a bowel disease like ulcerative colitis or Crohn's Disease has been ruled out. At your doctor's appointment, you'll undergo a physical exam, and your doctor will check for blood in your stool. Other tests such as blood tests, x-rays or, in some cases, a colonoscopy may be a part of your visit if your doctor feels it is needed.

Could stress and diet affect IBS?

Diet and stress seem to cause symptoms.

Eating typically results in a bowel movement within 30 to 60 minutes after a meal. Those with IBS may experience the urge sooner with cramps and diarrhea. Fatty meals can make this reaction worse. Every person reacts to foods different. Often people with IBS will learn to avoid certain foods, beverages and medicines that worsen their symptoms.

Stress can cause a similar reaction as eating in those with IBS. The reasons for this are not clear though it is thought it could be because the colon is partially controlled by the nervous system. Relaxation methods and stress reducers can reduce the side effects of IBS. Counseling and support have also been known to relieve IBS symptoms.

Can my period affect my IBS symptoms?

Changes in the level of female hormones seem to affect IBS symptoms. Your symptoms may be worse at certain times of your cycle. Women with IBS tend to have more pain and bloating prior to at the beginning of their menstrual cycles than those without IBS.

Could I get colon cancer because of IBS?

IBS will not increase your risk of colon cancer. In fact, studies indicate having IBS won't increase your long-term risk of any serious disease.

If I have IBS, can I still exercise?

Though IBS may affect when you want to workout based on how you respond to food, studies show working out is good for those with IBS and can even help lessen symptoms.

What can I do to cure IBS?

Unfortunately there is no "cure" for IBS. It is often a long-term condition, however, it is manageable. Drinking plenty of water and increasing fiber intake may help, particularly with constipation. Fiber is found in bran, bread, cereal, beans, fruits and vegetables. Increase fiber intake gradually to avoid causing gas and pain. Sometimes medication may be prescribed to help with your IBS symptoms. Talk to a doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you.

Most people with IBS find it to be annoying, but rarely is it disabling. With proper diet, stress management and medication, those living with IBS can lead a healthy, normal life. If you think you may have IBS, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms.