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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal (digestive) problem
that affects up to 15% of adults (during their lifetimes) in developed countries.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional disorder, meaning that tests do not
reveal a cause in the structure of the bowel such as an obstruction or a tumor.
Irritable bowel syndrome is completely different from Crohn
disease or ulcerative colitis, which are inflammatory
diseases of the intestine. Having IBS does not increase the risk of developing
colon cancer. Gastroenterologists (doctors with specialized
training in treating disorders of the bowel and other digestive organs) may
be consulted to help diagnose and treat IBS. The August 18, 2004, issue of JAMA includes an article about IBS that reviews evidence
that IBS may be related to abnormal fermentation (chemical
breakdown) of food by bacteria inside the bowel.
Bloating and gas (particularly after eating)
Urgency to have a bowel movement, sometimes right
after having one
Abnormal stool form (including the passage of mucus)
Medical testing may be done to rule out other causes of these symptoms.
Blood in the stool is an important reason to see your doctor. It is not a
typical symptom of IBS.
Eating a large meal
High-fat or high-fiber meals
If your symptoms become worse after drinking milk or eating other dairy
products, you may have lactose intolerance. This
intolerance is the inability to digest the sugars (lactose) found in milk
and is not part of IBS. Foods themselves do not cause IBS. However, persons
with IBS may find that certain foods make their symptoms worse.
Eat a healthful, balanced diet and avoid foods
that trigger an increase in your symptoms.
Small meals during the day (instead of 3 large
meals) may be beneficial.
Engage in regular physical exercise.
Medications called antispasmodics may be prescribed
to decrease the spasms in the bowel and reduce diarrhea symptoms.
A prescription medication is available for short-term
use in women with IBS whose primary symptom is constipation.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal
Disorders 888/964-2001 http://www.iffgd.org
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Associationhttp://www.ibsassociation.org
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
Index on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on colon
cancer screening was published in the March 12, 2003, issue.
Sources: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases,
American Academy of Family Physicians, Irritable Bowel Syndrome Association,
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page
are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical
diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page
may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals
to share with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject
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TOPIC: GASTROINTTESTINAL HEALTH
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. JAMA. 2004;292(7):886. doi:10.1001/jama.292.7.886