Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic digestive disorder that causes recurring belly pain, cramps, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation. Doctors don't know what causes it, but there are strategies to control the symptoms. These include diet changes, stress management, and medications to treat diarrhea or constipation.
The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain accompanied by a change in bowel habits. This can include constipation, diarrhea, or both. Gas and a visibly bloated belly are also common. The condition does not damage the digestive system, but persistent pain and frequent trips to the bathroom can interfere with everyday life. Anyone can get IBS, but the condition is twice as common in women as in men. It's also more likely to affect people who have a family history of IBS. Symptoms usually begin when people are in their late 20s. It's uncommon for people over 50 to develop IBS for the first time. IBS sometimes co-exists with depression or anxiety. IBS may not put your life at risk, but it can take a significant toll on your lifestyle. During episodes of frequent, urgent diarrhea, you may find it difficult to commute to work or travel by air. You may find it necessary to map out bathrooms before going anyplace new. In severe cases, patients may become hesitant to eat out, see a movie, or socialize.
IBS is a chronic condition, and patients may experience quieter periods followed by flare-ups. Keeping a personal diary of food, feelings, and symptoms can help uncover hidden triggers when people are first diagnosed — and if IBS begins to interfere with daily life again. Over time, the symptoms of IBS typically do not get worse. IBS is not life-threatening and does not lead to more serious conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.