What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome ( IBS ) ?

IBS ( Irritable Bowel Syndrome) Statistics, Causes,
Triggers, Diet and Treatment
Infographic from Alphega-Pharmacy
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional disorder of the gastrointestinal tract (GI).

IBS is considered to be a digestive disorder and is characterized by a collection of symptoms, ranging in severity from mild (about 40% of cases), moderate (about 35% of cases), to severe (about 25% of cases).


In the United States, IBS is the most common disorder diagnosed by gastroenterologists (physicians who specialize in digestive disorders and diseases) and is estimated to account for up to 12% of total visits to primary care providers.

IBS is estimated to affect up to 20% of  the US and the UK adult population.   However, it is also estimated that a large percentage (as many as 75%) of individuals suffering from IBS go undiagnosed.

IBS appears to be more common in women than in men, with about 35-40% of IBS cases reported by males and 60-60% reported by females.

IBS Subtypes

The recently revised Rome III Diagnostic Criteria defines four IBS subtypes based on the predominant stool pattern (volume, consistency and frequency) in the patient:

  1. IBS with Constipation (IBS-C)
  2. IBS with Diarrhea (IBS-D)
  3. Mixed IBS (IBS-M)
  4. Unsubtyped IBS (insufficient abnormality of stool consistency to meet criteria for IBS-C, IBS-D, or IBS-M)
For more information on each of these subtypes and their clinical diagnosis, etc., please use the link above for the Rome III Diagnostic Criteria.

Symptoms Common to All Subtypes

Symptoms common to all IBS subtypes often occur with 90 minutes after eating, which is approximately the amount of time that it takes for food to reach the small intestine and generally include the following GI-related symptoms:

  • Pain or discomfort in the abdomen, usually occurring in the lower abdomen and described as a cramps or a cramp-like sensation, which is often relieved by or associated with a bowel movement
  • Bloated or swollen abdomen
  • Recurring diarrhea, constipation or a combination of both
  • In some individuals, whitish mucus in the stool
  • In some individuals, a feeling of an incomplete bowel movement
  • In some individuals, upper GI symptoms including heartburn and nausea
  • In some individuals, non-GI symptoms including headaches, urinary urgency/frequency, sexual dysfunction and sleep-related disturbances

Bristol Stool Form Scale / Chart
IBS-C  Bowel Symptoms

Symptoms specific to IBS-C include:

  • Delayed or infrequent bowel movements
  • Separate hard pellets or lumps or lumpy sausage shaped stools that are difficult to pass in at least 25% of the bowel movements - number 1 or 2 on the Bristol Stool Form Scale)
  • Watery or mushy stools account for less than 25% of bowel movements

IBS-D  Bowel Symptoms

Symptoms specific to IBS-D include:

  • An urgent need to move bowels
  • Abnormally frequent bowel movements
  • Watery (entirely liquid) or loose stools (fluffy pieces with ragged edges, mushy) in at least 25% of the bowel movements - number 6 or 7 on the Bristol Stool Form Scale
  • Hard, lumpy stools account for less than 25% of bowel movements
  • Undigested food in stool

IBS-M  Bowel Symptoms

IBS-M bowel symptoms alternate between IBS-D and IBS-C, with at least 25% of bowel movements being hard or lumpy (Bristol Stool Form Scale number 1 or 2) and at least 25% of bowel movements being loose, watery or mush (Bristol Stool Form Scale number 6 or 7).


The exact cause of IBS is not completely known or understood.  Possible factors include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Intestinal (bacterial) infection
  • Trauma
  • Chronic stress 
  • Psychosocial factors
  • Disturbances in colonic motility (muscle contractions)
  • Disruptions in brain-gut communication
  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Yeast (Candida) overgrowth
  • Parasites
  • Gut microbiome imbalances
  • Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Leaky Gut 


Treatment varies depending upon the IBS subtype, severity and other factors.  Treatment can include:
  • Prescription and OTC (Over the Counter) Drugs (anticholinergic and antispasmodic medications, anti-diarrheal agents, laxatives, anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications
  • Biotics (probiotics, prebiotics, antibiotics)
  • Dietary Modifications (elimination diet, FODMAPs, food combining, fiber supplementation)
  • Counseling (psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy)
  • Natural Remedies and Alternative Therapies (acupuncture, hypnosis, dietary supplements, herbs and essential oils)
  • Stress Management (meditation, relaxation training, yoga)
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Infographic Source

Infographic source and for more information about IBS and other health related topics, please visit Alphega Pharmacy.


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