Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder in which the intestines may not move, or sense correctly. The intestine may be more sensitive and reactive than usual, so it responds strongly to stimuli that would not affect other people in the same way, like gas. If you have IBS, you may experience abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation that interferes with your quality of life. Gastroenterologists and dietitians at NewYork-Presbyterian are skilled in distinguishing IBS from similar illnesses and helping you relieve your symptoms with dietary changes, stress management, and if necessary, medications.

Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Because IBS is a functional disorder, the colon looks normal. IBS is a clinical diagnosis (based on symptoms). However, since other digestive disorders may also cause some IBS symptoms, NewYork-Presbyterian doctors may perform certain tests to rule out other causes depending on your specific presentation. These tests may include:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Examination of the stool
  • Colonoscopy (insertion of a flexible scope to see inside the colon)
  • Upper Endoscopy (insertion of a flexible scope to see inside the esophagus, stomach and small intestine)
  • Abdominal imaging tests, such as x-rays and ultrasound
  • Breath tests for malabsorption or bacterial overgrowth
  • Specific motility tests for different parts of the GI tract

Treating IBS

Your gastroenterologist and a registered dietitian can help you identify treatments that relieve your IBS symptoms.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome diet. We may ask you to keep a food diary to identify foods that make your IBS symptoms worse. You may also find it helpful to eat smaller meals, drink six to eight glasses of water each day, and avoid certain foods (such as fatty foods, milk products, alcohol, chocolate, carbonated drinks, and caffeine). Your dietitian will work with you one-on-one to tailor a diet that works best for you as sometimes certain foods can trigger symptoms of IBS. Other patients might respond well to certain diets like the low FODMAP diet.
  • Reducing stress. Many people with IBS find that activities aimed at lowering stress—such as yoga, exercise, and counseling—contribute to reducing their IBS symptoms. Exercise can help the bowel function better while also reducing stress. NewYork-Presbyterian offers stress management and lifestyle optimization services through our Integrative Health and Well-being program. Our therapies can help to promote relaxation, reduce stress and anxiety, and relieve your symptoms.
  • Medications. Your doctor may recommend laxatives 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 contribute to reducing pain in some people. Several medications are now approved by the Food and Drug Administration for both IBS with constipation and IBS with diarrhea. Your doctor can explain how they work and help you choose which medication might be helpful for you.



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