Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Meaning, Diagnosis and Overview

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

IBS is a problem caused by long-term or recurrent changes in functioning of gastro-intestinal tract. IBS is not a disease, it is a group of symptoms that occur together. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects at least 10-15% of adults. It usually involves disturbances in the large intestine (colon) and small intestine. Disturbances involve
  1. Motor sensitivity (motility)
  2. Sensation
  3. Secretion
These intestinal/bowel (gut) related activities are regulated by the brain. This regulation may also be impaired. That is why IBS is often called a brain-gut disorder.

Recovery Time

Recovery is slow process. It may take six months or more to get improvement.


  • Stool tests
  • Lower GI series (X-ray)
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy
  • Lactose intolerance tests

FAQs prepared by doctor

Q1.  I am having stomach upset, is it irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome is diagnosed as
Recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort at least 3 days per month in the last 3 months associated with two or more of the following:
  • Improvement with defecation
  • Onset associated with a change in frequency of stool
  • Onset associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool

Q2.  If my doctor prescribed an antidepressant to treat my IBS does that mean I have a psychological disorder?
Not necessarily. In IBS low-dose antidepressants are useful because this class of drugs can help to reduce pain and also overall symptoms. For these purposes, doses are much lower than what is used to treat depression. Anti-depressants are effective; they act as reducing the motility of the bowel movements thereby controlling the diarrheal symptoms

Q3.  Can bacteria affect IBS symptoms?
There are trillions of bacteria throughout the GI tract. Some help maintain normal functioning of the intestine. Others can cause infection or inflammation.
When the normal balance in the intestine between beneficial and harmful bacteria is changed, it may lead to changes in the function of the GI tract and chronic GI symptoms.

Q4.  Does lactose intolerance cause IBS?
Lactose (milk sugar) intolerance can cause similar symptoms to IBS. Lactose intolerance and IBS can occur at the same time in a person, but they are separate conditions which are treated differently.
If the main symptoms are diarrhea and increased gas, the possibility of lactase deficiency should be ruled out with a hydrogen breath test or with evaluation after a 3-week lactose-free diet.

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