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Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Triggers, Symptoms, Diagnosis & More

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and gas. Here’s a breakdown of triggers, treatments, and more.

December 09, 2021 3 minute read

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common chronic gastrointestinal condition that affects the large intestine. An estimated approximately 10 to 15 percent of the world’s population is affected by this disorder, which is also believed to impact between 25 and 45 million people in the United States. 

Because IBS is so commonly experienced, it’s important to identify its warning signs and triggers, as well as understand diagnosis and treatment options.



Because it’s a chronic condition, most people with IBS will have to manage symptoms for long periods of time. The severity of these vary. The signs and symptoms of IBS can include:

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Mucus in Stool
  • Changes in Bowel Movement Appearance
  • Changes in Frequency of Bowel Movements

There are severe signs of IBS, which may be indicative of a more serious condition. If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact a doctor:

  • Weight Loss
  • Rectal Bleeding
  • Iron Deficiency Anemia
  • Unexplained Vomiting
  • Difficulty Swallowing


Risk Factors

Individuals are more likely to have IBS if they fit the following risk factors:

  • Are Under the Age of 50
  • Are Female
  • Have a Family History of IBS
  • Have Mental Health Issues Such as Anxiety or Depression
  • Have a History of Sexual, Physical, or Emotional Abuse



The exact cause of IBS is unknown, however physicians have found several factors play a role in the development of the disorder. A change in digestive tract muscle contraction is believed to have an impact on the presence of IBS. For instance, if the contractions become stronger and last longer, it can cause gas, diarrhea, or bloating. Weaker contractions may lead to constipation. Inconsistencies in the nervous system is the second. Changes in the signals between the brain and intestines can lead to overreactions, which result in pain or bowel movement abnormalities. The remaining indicators include bacterial or viral infections, early life stress, or changes in gut microbes. 



IBS symptoms are often triggered by particular actions, meaning lifestyle changes can be made to relieve pain or discomfort. Common triggers include increased stress and certain types of food. Common varieties known to cause IBS symptoms, include: 

  • Insoluble Fiber in Whole Grains
  • Gluten-Rich Wheat & Grains
  • Dairy
  • Fried Foods
  • Beans & Legumes
  • Caffeinated Drinks
  • Processed Foods
  • Sugar-Free Substitutes
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate



If a physician suspects IBS, they may recommend several diagnostic tests to rule out other conditions. A colonoscopy may be performed to ensure the symptoms are not actually related to colitis, Crohn’s disease, or cancer. An upper endoscopy is administered to determine if celiac disease is the true cause of your symptoms. An X-ray or CT scan may be ordered if the physician wants to rule out additional causes. Other laboratory tests a doctor may ask for include a lactose intolerance test, breath test for bacterial overgrowth, and stool tests to ensure the symptoms are not caused by other gastrointestinal conditions. 



IBS treatment options typically center around lifestyle changes. Patients are advised to alter their diet and eliminate any foods that cause symptoms. According to the American College of Gastroenterology: “Up to 90 percent of IBS patients stop eating some foods trying to improve their problems.” It’s also suggested patients incorporate more dissolvable fiber into their diet and enlist a dietician to assist. The second recommended lifestyle change is increased exercise and physician fitness. Consistent exercise has proven to relieve IBS symptoms. The third recommendation is to limit psychological stress. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga to put your mind and body at ease.

If you think you may be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, contact us today. Gastroenterology Associates specializes in restoring optimal digestive health. We are also conveniently located next to Long Island Center for Digestive Health (LICDH), a New York State-licensed, non-hospital outpatient facility dedicated to providing high-quality endoscopic and colonoscopic services.

Topics: Conditions