Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a motility disorder of the large
intestine (colon) characterized by chronic abdominal pain and abnormal
bowel movements (diarrhea, constipation, or both). The exact cause is
IBS is not related to inflammatory
bowel disease—a more serious condition characterized by chronic
inflammation in the digestive tract, particularly the small intestine
and colon. IBS does not cause inflammation and does not harm the
intestines. However, it causes considerable discomfort and distress for
many people. An estimated 1 in 5 people in the United States suffer from
IBS. Women are affected more often than men.
Symptoms vary from person to person. They may wax and wane in some
people and gradually worsen in others. In addition, some people have
constipation, others have diarrhea, and still others have alternating
constipation and diarrhea.
The most common symptoms are abdominal pain or discomfort and bloating.
Symptoms of constipation include having infrequent, hard, and
difficult-to-pass bowel movements; straining and cramping during bowel
movements; and being unable to have a bowel movement. Symptoms of
diarrhea include having frequent, loose, or watery bowel movements; and
feeling an uncontrollable need or urge to have a bowel movement.
IBS usually is suspected based on a person’s symptoms and physical
examination findings. There is no specific test for IBS, but tests are
often done to rule out other causes of symptoms, such as a tumor,
cancer, or IBD. Blood tests, stool tests, motility studies, and
colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy may be performed.
One specialized diagnostic tool available at Lankenau Medical Center is wireless
capsule motility testing (SmartPill). This relatively new
technology, involves the use of a capsule-sized device for evaluating
motility function within the digestive tract. The device is swallowed
and travels through the digestive tract, transmitting information about
pressure, pH, and transit times for each segment of the digestive tract
and the system overall. A data recorder, worn on a belt, collects the
information. The device is excreted in a bowel movement.
There is no cure for IBS, but most people can find relief from symptoms
through a combination of dietary changes, medications to help control
diarrhea or constipation, and stress reduction techniques. A first
helpful step in treatment is to monitor symptoms and diet with a daily
diary, noting the frequency and appearance of stool, frequency and
intensity of abdominal pain or discomfort, and foods that are eaten.
This information can help inform dietary changes and medication choices.
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.