What is IBS? What Can You Do?

Updated: Apr 1

Gastrointestinal pain is worth seeking help!

IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (also referred to as spastic colon). It is a common, chronic health condition that affects approximately 9-23% of the world's population, mostly women. IBS is classified as a functional disease in which the bowels function abnormally.

IBS vs. IBD: What’s the Difference?

Characteristics of IBS

It is most commonly characterized by chronic abdominal pain, bloating, gas, cramping, discomfort and irregular bowels.


  • Abdominal pains or cramps (typically in the lower abdomen)

  • Excessive gas​ and bloating

  • Harder or looser bowel movements than average​

  • Diarrhea, constipation, or alternating between the two

  • Fatigue

These symptoms DO NOT cause bleeding or black, tarry stools.

A number of factors can "trigger" IBS, including certain foods, medicines, and emotional stress. IBS is not a life-threatening or terminal condition and does not make a person any more likely to develop other colon conditions (1).

Characteristics of IBD

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) most often refers to Crohn's disease or Ulcerative Colitis.

Crohn's disease is a chronic illness in which the intestine becomes inflamed and ulcerated. While typically beginning in the lower region of the small intestine (ileum), Crohn's can occur in any section of the large or small intestine, stomach, or esophagus. This disease affects the entire thickness of the walls of the bowel, making patients more likely to develop fistulas and abscesses.


  • Fever

  • Chronic diarrhea

  • Weight loss

  • Abdominal pain and tenderness (often on the right side of the lower abdomen)

  • Feeling of a mass or fullness in the lower, right abdomen​

Ulcerative colitis is known to only ever start in the large intestine and affects only the inner layer of the colon (mucosa). The inflammation begins in the rectum but can spread to other segments of the colon as it matures.


  • Diarrhea - which subsequently becomes bloody

  • Abdominal pain

  • Fever

What causes IBS?

What We Know So Far

The exact cause of IBS isn't clear. Many theories have been put forward, but the pathophysiology is still uncertain. The complexity and diversity of IBS makes treatment difficult, as not all symptoms affect everyone (2).

Potential Causes:

1. Dysfunctional Serotonin regulation

Serotonin plays a key role in the control of gastrointestinal motility, sensation, and secretion. Higher and lower levels of serotonin in IBS patients have been shown to correlate with looser and harder stools, respectively

2. Bacterial overgrowth or infection

Studies indicate that small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is prevalent in IBS cases, yet it remains unclear whether overgrowth CAUSES IBS. There is no known quantity-dependent relationship between small intestinal microbiota and IBS symptoms. Prospective studies have shown that 3%-36% of enteric infections lead to persistent new IBS symptoms. The precise incidence depends on the infecting organism (viral/bacterial)

3. Central dysregulation and brain-gut interaction

​In addition, psychological stress has been reported to be one of the factors that induce immune activation. Anxiety and depression are also common in IBS

4. Genetics (disputable)

There is a working hypothesis that environmental factors play an important role in the pathogenesis in the genetically primed individuals.

How Is It Treated?