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What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome and What Causes It?

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Is IBS a Disease Like Crohn’s Disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a dysfunction of the gastrointestinal tract. It’s not a disease like Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease.

Symptoms vary greatly from person to person, but they may include some of the following:

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• Abdominal pain, sometimes localized in the lower left quadrant

• Bloating

• Diarrhea

• constipation

• Alternating diarrhea/constipation

• Change in stool consistency or appearance

• Mucus in the stool

• Feeling of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement

• Onset of uncontrollable desire to defecate at sunset

• Excess gas

• Pain when sitting down

• Excessive gurgling/rumbling/growling in stomach and abdomen

• Nausea and vomiting

• belching

• loss of appetite

• Unpleasant taste in the mouth

• Heartburn

• back pain

• Lethargy

• Anxiety and/or depression

• Insomnia

• palpitations

• Irritable bladder or incontinence

• Gynecological problems

As you can see, it’s a long list. Many of the symptoms can be caused by other diseases or conditions. Please do not diagnose yourself. See your doctor—or more, if necessary—until you have a specific diagnosis.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, go to the hospital or see a doctor immediately. They are NOT symptoms of IBS:

• High temperature

• Blood in the stool or fresh bleeding during a bowel movement

• Constant, unrelenting pain

Most experts agree that IBS does not cause permanent damage or lead to more serious conditions like cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.

What Causes IBS?

After speaking to several doctors, nurses, and a nutritionist, I received no answer to this question. Nothing clear on the internet either. However, criteria have been established to help doctors diagnose irritable bowel syndrome. Named Rome III Criteria, see for more information.

The average patient sees three doctors for three years before finally receiving a proper diagnosis.

The criteria for irritable bowel syndrome are listed below.

• Recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort on at least three days per month for the past six months associated with two or more of the following:

  • Improvement in bowel movements

    – Onset associated with a change in stool frequency

    – Onset associated with a change in the shape (appearance) of the chair

It’s important to get a specific diagnosis before assuming you have IBS. Other diseases can cause similar symptoms and must be ruled out before assumptions are made. There is (still) no diagnostic test that can detect irritable bowel syndrome. However, extensive testing can rule out other, more serious conditions, such as celiac disease, colon cancer, and Crohn’s disease.

Other conditions that can affect people with IBS

According to recent research, people with IBS may also suffer from one or more of the conditions on the following list:

• Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS)

• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

• Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS)

• Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)

• Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

• Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD)

• Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

• Periodic Limb Movement (PLMS)

• Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome (MCSS)

• Tension headaches

• Irritable bladder

• Primary dysmenorrhea

• Migraine headaches

• Vulvodynia

There may also be an overlap of conditions, such as

• Globe

• Functional chest pain

• Functional heartburn

• Functional dysphagia

• Functional dyspepsia

• Aerophagy

• Functional vomiting

• Rumination Syndrome

• Functional abdominal bloating

• Functional constipation

• Functional diarrhea

• Functional abdominal pain

• Gallbladder dysfunction

• Dysfunction of the sphincter of Oddi

• Functional fecal incontinence

• Functional anorectal pain

• Functional defecation disorders

Functional disorders do not produce abnormal test results, and nothing unusual is seen on endoscopy or X-ray. These disorders are generally diagnosed by deciding what they are NOT and then categorizing them by symptoms.


The material provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace appropriate medical diagnosis, treatment or advice. Always consult your physician and other appropriate healthcare providers before taking any medication, natural remedy, or dietary supplement. or before changing your diet. Discuss any plans, symptoms, and medical conditions with your doctor.

Any use of the ideas contained herein is at your own discretion, risk and responsibility. The author assumes no liability for the information presented. There are no representations or warranties, either express or implied.

You should not begin or discontinue any medical treatment based on any information contained in this or any other article.

Thanks to Kathy Steinemann

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