Uncomfortable and inconvenient are two words that best describe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but there is so much more. Irritable bowel syndrome is a very common condition that affects the colon and causes cramping, pain in the abdomen, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. There is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome but it can normally be managed with irritable bowel syndrome treatment. Here’s what you can do.

What is irritable bowel syndrome? 

Irritable bowel syndrome, or more technically correct irritable bowel disease (IBD), describes a number of chronic or recurring gastrointestinal conditions. Most often with this disease, the body’s own immune system will respond in an overactive, abnormal way to food and other materials in the intestines. Due to this, the immune system actually attacks the cells of the intestines, leading to chronic inflammation.

In Crohn’s disease, this inflammation generally affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the large bowel. With ulcerative colitis, the inflammation is limited to the colon, or large bowel.

Now, however, we are beginning to study how these conditions of the gut are affecting people every day. We can start to understand the impact of these conditions by considering that:

  • The CDC estimates that as many as 1.4 million people in the U.S. suffer from irritable bowel diseases
  • The CDC also reports that irritable bowel diseases have an overall healthcare cost of $1.7 billion
  • Ulcerative colitis, one of the more common irritable bowel diseases, affects as many as 700,000 people in the U.S.
  • The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America also estimates that another 700,000 people in the U.S. suffer from Crohn’s disease
  • Certain studies cited by the National Institutes of Health estimate that irritable bowel syndrome may affect as many as 20% of the U.S. adult population

What are common irritable bowel syndrome symptoms?

Though they both affect the gut, irritable bowel syndrome is not to be confused with irritable bowel disease. Instead of intestinal inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by changes in how the GI tract works, but not actual damage to that system. Irritable bowel syndrome, however, does share many of the same symptoms, including diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Symptoms of both conditions include:

  • Loose stool or diarrhea
  • Cramps
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Fatigue

Unlike irritable bowel diseases, the causes of IBS are not as well understood. Instead of a single dysfunction in the body, irritable bowel syndrome may be caused by a combination of factors, including:

  • Brain to gut signaling problems
  • GI tract motor problems
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Mental health issues
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
  • Body chemicals, such as GI hormones
  • Genetics
  • Food sensitivities

Since there are such a wide range of possible causes, there are often overlaps between irritable bowel syndrome and other medical conditions. IBS has a high association with other conditions like:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • TMJ disorder
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression and anxiety

What can you do for irritable bowel syndrome treatment?

While these symptoms a