Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) involves the colon or large bowel, the part of the digestive tract that stores stool. IBS is a disorder in which the bowel does not function properly. People with IBS may experience abdominal discomfort or pain, cramping, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation. IBS symptoms may not only cause discomfort, but interfere with quality of life as some sufferers feel the need to frequently be near a restroom.
While there is no cure for IBS, there are effective treatments. Doctors and nutritionists at the Center for Advanced Digestive Care (CADC) of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center are available to diagnose the disorder, help patients identify their IBS triggers, and learn how to reduce their symptoms.
What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
The exact cause of IBS is not known. One theory is that a person with IBS may have a colon that is more sensitive and reactive than usual, so it responds strongly to stimuli that would not affect other people. The muscle of the colon of a person with IBS then begins to spasm after only mild stimulation or ordinary events such as eating certain foods or taking certain medications.
Emotional stress and diet have been identified as triggers for IBS symptoms. Women with IBS seem to have more symptoms during their menstrual periods, suggesting that reproductive hormones play a role.
Because IBS is a functional disorder, there is no sign of disease when the colon is examined. Since the symptoms of IBS may also be caused by other digestive disorders, doctors at the CADC perform certain tests to rule out other causes before making a diagnosis of IBS. These tests may include:
- Physical examination
- Blood and urine tests
- Examination of the stool
- Colonoscopy to see inside the colon
- Abdominal imaging tests, such as x-rays and ultrasound
Treatment of IBS
The treatment of IBS may involve dietary changes, stress management, exercise, and medication. Treatment at the CADC is tailored to each patient's IBS triggers and symptoms.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diet
Attention to diet is important for reducing IBS symptoms. Patients may be asked to keep a food diary to track their symptoms and the foods they have eaten to identify foods that may trigger symptoms.
Other recommendations include:
- Incorporating high-fiber foods in the diet, such as whole grains, bran, fruits, vegetables, and beans.
- Eating smaller meals.
- Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day.
- Avoiding foods that worsen IBS, including fatty foods, milk products, alcohol, chocolate, carbonated drinks, and caffeine.
The CADC offers a range of clinical support and wellness services to patients who see a CADC physician, including short-term nutritional guidance. We offer most of these services at no cost. Patients seeking other wellness offerings or further nutrition counseling can utilize the following NYP resources:
Many people with IBS find that activities aimed at lowering stress — such as yoga, exercise, and counseling — help reduce their IBS symptoms. Exercise can help the bowel function better while also reducing stress. Your doctor may recommend some stress-reduction techniques, some of which are offered through NYP's Integrative Health and Wellbeing Program.
Laxatives may be prescribed to treat constipation, anti-diarrheal medications to treat diarrhea, and anti-spasmodic drugs to help control spasms and pain in the colon. Low doses of certain antidepressants can also help reduce pain in some women. Alosetron (Lotronex®) is a drug that can help women with severe IBS whose major symptom is diarrhea.