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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Spastic Colon)

Alternative names: Spastic Colon, Nervous Colon, Spastic Bowel, Mucous Colitis, Spastic Colitis

What is irritable bowel syndrome?
What are the signs of irritable bowel syndrome?
What causes irritable bowel syndrome?
How does my doctor tell if I have irritable bowel syndrome?
How is irritable bowel syndrome treated?

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an intestinal problem that leads to stomach cramps, gas, bloating, and changes in bowel habits, such as constipation and diarrhea. One in five Americans has IBS, making it one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors.

What are the signs of irritable bowel syndrome?

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Painful bowel movements, or constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • A gassy, bloated feeling
  • Mucus in bowel movements

IBS usually does not cause rectal bleeding, fever, weight loss, and ongoing severe pain. These can be signs of a more serious problem.

What causes irritable bowel syndrome?

The underlying cause of IBS is unknown. The brain and the intestine are closely connected by a network of nerves. IBS is most likely due to abnormal communication between the brain, the intestinal nerves, and the digestive muscles. The syndrome does not cause permanent harm to the intestines.

A person with IBS may have intestines that are sensitive to:

  • Eating large meals
  • Certain medicines
  • Foods made with wheat, rye, barley, chocolate, or milk products
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, or soda
  • Menstruation

How does my doctor tell if I have irritable bowel syndrome?

To make sure that your symptoms of IBS are not being caused by a more serious condition, your doctor may perform one or more of these tests:

  • A hemoccult test, to check for the presence of blood in your stool (bowel movement)
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy uses a thin, flexible tube - about two feet long - to examine the lower intestine and the rectum. The tube has a tiny video camera and a light mounted at its tip. The video camera transmits images to a television monitor, which allows your doctor to see inside your body. The procedure takes about three minutes, and causes only slight discomfort.
  • In a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a thin, flexible tube to examine the entire large intestine. The tube has a tiny video camera and a light mounted at its tip. The video camera transmits images to a television monitor, which allows your doctor to see inside your body. This will take about an hour, and you will be given medication to make you relaxed and drowsy.
  • Your doctor may suggest a barium enema X-ray test. Barium is a white substance that allows problem areas of the colon to show up on an X-ray. You will be given a barium enema before taking the X-ray.

If these tests are all negative, your doctor may diagnose IBS if you have had abdominal pain for at least three months of the past year. This abdominal pain:

  • Is relieved by having a bowel movement
  • Changes how often you have a bowel movement
  • Changes the appearance or consistency of your bowel movements

How is irritable bowel syndrome treated?

Although IBS causes pain and distress, it does not lead to any serious diseases. Most people can control their symptoms by watching their diet, managing their stress levels, or taking medications their doctor may prescribe.

Diet:

  • For many people, adding fiber to their diet reduces the symptoms of IBS. Whole-grain breads, cereals, beans, fruits, and vegetables all contain fiber. At first, a high-fiber diet may cause gas and bloating, but these symptoms will go away as your body adjusts.
  • Avoid large meals. Eat several smaller meals every day, or simply limit yourself to smaller portions.
  • Drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine can worsen the symptoms of IBS
  • Dairy products can cause diarrhea or constipation in people with IBS. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid foods like cheese and milk.

Stress Management:

Mental health counseling and relaxation training can help relieve the symptoms of IBS for some people

Medication:

Your doctor may recommend fiber supplements or occasional laxatives to relieve constipation. Other medicines can treat diarrhea, or control the muscles in your intestines. A variety of other medications that your doctor may prescribe can help control symptoms.

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