Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – What is it and what are potential treatments?

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a group of symptoms that affect your digestive system. It’s a common but uncomfortable gastrointestinal disorder. People with IBS get excessive gas, abdominal pain and cramps. The condition most often occurs in people in their late teens to early 40s. Women can be twice as likely than men to get IBS. IBS may happen to multiple family members.

You may be at higher risk if you have:

  • Family history of IBS.
  • Emotional stress, tension or anxiety.
  • Food intolerance.
  • History of physical or sexual abuse.
  • Severe digestive tract infection.

Researchers don’t exactly know what causes IBS. They think a combination of factors can lead to IBS, including:

  • Dysmotility: Problems with how your GI muscles contract and move food through the GI tract.
  • Visceral hypersensitivity: Extra-sensitive nerves in the GI tract.
  • Brain-gut dysfunction: Miscommunication between nerves in the brain and gut.

The symptoms of IBS typically include:

  • cramping
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating and gas
  • constipation
  • diarrhea

Women with IBS may find that symptoms flare up during their periods. These symptoms often happen again and again, which can make you feel stressed or upset. As you learn management techniques and gain control over flare-ups, you’ll start to feel better, physically and mentally.

IBS treatement options:

The goal of IBS treatment is to provide relief from your symptoms. Your exact course of treatment will depend on the type and severity of your symptoms. Doctors may treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by recommending changes in what you eat and other lifestyle changes, medicines, probiotics, and mental health therapies. You may have to try a few treatments to see what works best for you. Your doctor can help you find the right treatment plan.

Dietary changes:

Changes in what you eat may help treat your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend trying one of the following changes:

  • eat more fiber
  • avoid gluten
  • follow a special eating plan called the low FODMAP diet

Note on FODMAP: FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols.” These are small carbs that many people cannot digest — particularly those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Lifestyle changes:

Research suggests that other lifestyle changes may help IBS symptoms, including:

  • increasing your physical activity
  • reducing stressful life situations as much as possible
  • getting enough sleep


Your doctor may recommend medicine to relieve your IBS symptoms. Follow your doctor’s instructions when you use medicine to treat IBS. Talk with your doctor about possible side effects and what to do if you have them.


Your doctor may also recommend probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms, most often bacteria, that are similar to microorganisms you normally have in your digestive tract. Researchers are still studying the use of probiotics to treat IBS.

To be safe, talk with your doctor before using probiotics or any other complementary or alternative medicines or practices. If your doctor recommends probiotics, talk with him or her about how much probiotics you should take and for how long.

Mental health therapies:

Your doctor may recommend mental health therapies to help improve your IBS symptoms. Therapies used to treat IBS include

  • cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on helping you change thought and behavior patterns to improve IBS symptoms
  • gut-directed hypnotherapy, in which a therapist uses hypnosis—a trance-like state in which you are relaxed or focused—to help improve your IBS symptoms
  • relaxation training, which can help you relax your muscles or reduce stress


Test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and other things. Your test results may not mean you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you. 

The information on is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

1 comment

  1. Thanks. I am currently following a low FODMAP diet. My PCP suggested it due to uncontrolled chain belching. I have had GERD for over 40 years, taking a variety of medicines. I had constipation most of my life, but with Metformin I can swing the other way. Now I simply have a new normal. I added this post to my favorites in that my son (42) is having IBSD problems, and he hates the idea of my diet – although he enjoys so of the dishes that I have cooked for him. I need to explore the other suggestions made here and maybe help my son also.


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