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What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, is a commonly reported bowel disorder identified by chronic abdominal discomfort, changes in bowel patterns and bloating. [1] IBS shares symptoms with other irritable bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease. Unlike these problems, however, the cause of IBS remains a subject of research.

Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

While a specific cause has not been identified, studies have identified several common factors shared by individuals who experience IBS. Surveys of patients have found that most believe their symptoms result from food they have eaten. Cereals and breads were frequently fingered in surveys, while spicy foods, dairy products and fruit also received note. [2] Fructose consumption has also been associated with IBS and those who reduce or eliminate fructose from the diet experience improvement. [3]

The health, or unhealthiness, of natural gut flora also appears to contribute to the onset of IBS and differences have been found between the gut bacteria (intestinal microbiota) of healthy people and those suffering from IBS. [4] Individuals recovering from an inflammation of the stomach and small intestine (gastroenteritis) have been found to experience IBS too. This suggests the mechanism that initiates IBS extends beyond your most recent meal.

Interesting side note — stress has been found to directly impact the symptoms of IBS. The greater the stress, the greater the chance of experiencing the discomfort of IBS. [5]

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Chronic bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation are the most commonly experienced symptoms. In most cases of IBS, normal behavior of the gut changes, accompanied by discomfort. One, or possibly several, of these symptoms may occur during an episode of irritable bowel syndrome.

Dangers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Perhaps the biggest danger of IBS is misdiagnosis. It’s indications are similar to other serious problems such as celiac disease or colitis. If you’re having abdominal distress, it’s important to determine the cause. Migraine, fibromyalgia and depression have also been found to occur more frequently in individuals suffering from IBS. [6]

What Can Be Done?

Eliminating IBS-causing foods, improving your diet, reducing stress and taking probiotics have all been found helpful when addressing the indications of irritable bowel syndrome. [7] [8] [9] Have you suffered from IBS? How have you found relief? Please leave a comment below and share your experience!

-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DABFM


  1. Anastasi JK, Capili B, Chang M. Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Am J Nurs. 2013 Jul;113(7):42-52.
  2. Hayes P, Corish C, O’Mahony E, Quigley EM. A dietary survey of patients with irritable bowel syndrome. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2013 May 9. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12114.
  3. Berg LK, Fagerli E, Martinussen M, Myhre AO, Florholmen J, Goll R. Effect of fructose-reduced diet in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, and its correlation to a standard fructose breath test. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2013 Jul 8.
  4. Gulewitsch MD, Enck P, Schwille-Kiuntke J, Weimer K, Schlarb AA. Mental Strain and Chronic Stress among University Students with Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2013;2013:206574. doi: 10.1155/2013/206574. Epub 2013 Jun 16.
  5. Ohman L, Simrén M. Intestinal microbiota and its role in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2013 May;15(5):323. doi: 10.1007/s11894-013-0323-7.
  6. Cole JA, Rothman KJ, Cabral HJ, Zhang Y, Farraye FA. Migraine, fibromyalgia, and depression among people with IBS: a prevalence study. BMC Gastroenterol. 2006 Sep 28;6:26.
  7. Mazzawi T, Hausken T, Gundersen D, El-Salhy M. Effects of dietary guidance on the symptoms, quality of life and habitual dietary intake of patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Mol Med Rep. 2013 Jul 2. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2013.1565.
  8. Ljótsson B, Hesser H, Andersson E, Lindfors P, Hursti T, Rück C, Lindefors N, Andersson G, Hedman E. Mechanisms of Change in an Exposure-Based Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2013 Jun 10.
  9. Yoon JS, Sohn W, Lee OY, Lee SP, Lee KN, Jun DW, Lee HL, Yoon BC, Choi HS, Chung WS, Seo JG. Effect of multi-species probiotics on irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2013 Jul 5. doi: 10.1111/jgh.12322.

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