Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Also known as: IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the intestines. It is not a disease, but a group of symptoms caused by changes in the way the intestines work. It is fairly common, but the cause is not well understood.

Symptoms of IBS include:

  • Abdominal pain, discomfort, and cramping

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation or dry, hard stools

  • Mucous stool

  • Bloating

  • Feeling of incomplete bowel movements

It usually results in one of 3 patterns of symptoms:

  • Chronic abdominal pain and constipation

  • Recurring episodes of diarrhea, with or without pain

  • Alternating diarrhea and constipation

Home care

The goal of treatment is to control and relieve your symptoms, so you can lead a full and active life. There is no cure for IBS. But it can be managed.


Your diet did not cause your IBS, but it can affect it. No one diet works for everyone. Finding the best foods for you may take trial and error. Keep a food log to help find what foods made your symptoms worse. Below are some tips that may help you.

  • Eat more slowly. Eat smaller amounts at a time, but more often. Remember, you can always eat more, but cannot eat less once you’ve eaten too much.

  • High-fiber foods are complicated. While they may help relieve constipation, they can make your bloating, cramping, gas, and diarrhea worse.

  • Eat less sugar.

  • Try cutting out dairy products. Sometimes this helps.

  • Try cutting out foods that are high in fat and fatty meats.

  • You can control bloating or passing excess gas. Be careful with “gassy” vegetables and fruits like beans, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.

  • Be careful with carbonated beverages and fruit juices. They can make your bloating and diarrhea worse.

  • Caffeine, alcohol, and stimulants can make symptoms worse. These include coffee, tea, sodas, energy drinks, and chocolate.


  • Look for factors that seem to worsen your symptoms. These include stress and emotions. 

  • Although stress does not cause IBS, it may trigger flare-ups. Counseling can help you learn to handle stress. So can self-help measures like exercise, yoga, and meditation.

  • Depression can occur along with IBS. Your healthcare provider may prescribe antidepressant medicine. This may help with diarrhea, constipation, and cramping, as well as with symptoms of depression.

  • Smoking doesn't cause IBS, but can make the symptoms worse.


Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines. Take them as directed. For acute flare-ups of your illness, your provider may give you prescription medicines.

  • Check with your healthcare provider before taking any medicines for diarrhea.

  • Avoid anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen.

  • Consider nutritional supplements. This is especially true if your diarrhea is prolonged, or you aren't eating or are losing weight

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. If a stool sample was taken or cultures were done, you will be told if your treatment needs to change. You can call as directed for the results.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Abdominal pain gets worse

  • Constant abdominal pain moves to the right-lower abdomen

  • You can't keep liquids down because of vomiting

  • You have severe diarrhea

  • You have blood (red or black color) or mucus in your stool

  • You feel very weak or dizzy, faint, or have extreme thirst

  • You have a fever of 100.4ºF (38.0ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider