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What Is IBS?S­ndrome del intestino irritable

What Is IBS?

People who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have digestive tracts that react abnormally to certain substances or to stress. This leads to symptoms like cramps, gas, bloating, pain, constipation, and diarrhea. Sometimes called "spastic colon," IBS is a common condition.

Cutaway view of digestive tract
Muscle contractraction moves food through the digestive tract.

IBS-A Motility Problem

The muscle movement that passes food through the digestive tract is called motility. When you have IBS, the normal motility of the digestive tract (especially the colon) is disrupted. Motility may speed up, slow down, or become irregular. If stool passes too quickly through the colon, not enough water is absorbed from it. Loose, watery stools (diarrhea) can result. If stool passes through the colon too slowly, too much water is absorbed and the stool becomes hard and dry (constipation). Also, stool and gas may back up and cause painful pressure and cramping.

What Causes IBS?

  • Smoking, eating certain foods, drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks can cause symptoms of IBS.

  • Stress or anxiety can contribute to the motility problems that cause IBS.

  • Although no one knows for sure, IBS may be caused by a problem with the nerves or muscles in your digestive tract.

What You Can Do

  • Certain medications may help regulate the working of your digestive tract. Your doctor may prescribe one or more for you.

  • Medication can't cure IBS, however. It can only help manage symptoms.

  • Because some medications may make IBS worse, don't take any medication, especially laxatives, unless your doctor prescribes it for you.

  • Your doctor may suggest some lifestyle changes to help control your IBS. Two of the most important are changing your diet and managing stress.

Date Last Reviewed:

Date Last Modified: 2002-07-09T00:00:00-06:00

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