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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

A disorder of the intestines commonly marked by abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in a person's bowel habits. This may include diarrhea or constipation, or both, with one occurring after the other.

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(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea are all typical symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Other names for this disorder include irritable colon, mucous colitis, spastic colon or spastic colitis, and nervous stomach. Although IBS is not dangerous, the symptoms can be very painful and bothersome. Most people who have IBS have a mild form, which they can cope with quite well without getting any treatment. But sometimes the symptoms are so strong that they significantly affect people's everyday lives and can cause distress. There is no cure for IBS. Over time, though, many people find out what makes them feel better, and what makes them feel worse. And various things can relieve the symptoms.

Symptoms

The typical symptoms of IBS include constant stomach ache or lower abdominal pain, abdominal cramps, as well as a change in the consistency of the stool. It tends to cause constipation in women and diarrhea in men, but both sexes can have either form... Read more about Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Herbal medicines for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

The use of herbal medicines for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome is popular. Traditional Chinese herbal medicine is a common practice in the East, and some clinical trials show a benefit of herbal medicines for symptomatic treatment of this condition. This systematic review identified and included 75 randomised clinical trials evaluating the effects of various herbal preparations (including single herbs or mixtures of different herbs) for treating people with irritable bowel syndrome. The review shows that some herbal medicines improve global symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea and/or constipation. However, the methodological quality of the majority of clinical trials evaluating these herbs was generally poor. There is evidence indicating that small, poor quality trials with positive findings are more likely to be associated with exaggerated effects. Although the included trials did not report serious adverse effects from using herbal medicines more research is needed to determine the safety of herbal medicines. In conclusion, herbal medicines might be promising for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. However, it is premature to recommend herbal medicines for routine use in irritable bowel syndrome. Testing the herbs in larger, well‐designed trials is needed in order to establish sound evidence for their use.

Hypnotherapy (treatment by hypnosis) for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

Studies of hypnotherapy for treatment of IBS.

Tegaserod for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic, relapsing condition characterized by the presence of abdominal pain and disturbed bowel habit. Symptoms of chronic constipation frequently resemble those of constipation‐predominant IBS. Tegaserod (4 or 12 mg/day for 12 weeks), a drug that stimulates smooth muscle in the gastrointestinal tract, produces some benefit over placebo when used to treat IBS where constipation is a major symptom. Patients taking tegaserod reported an overall improvement in their IBS symptoms, an increase in number of bowel movements per day and a reduction in number of days without bowel movements. It is not clear if tegaserod improves symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, stool consistency and straining. When used to treat chronic constipation, the frequency of bowel movements increased with tegaserod, but increases over those seen with placebo were small. Diarrhea occurred more often among individuals taking high dose tegaserod (12 mg/day). Further studies are needed to assess the effect of tegaserod on quality of life. More information is needed on its effectiveness in men, as most of the studies involved women.

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Summaries for consumers

Herbal medicines for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

The use of herbal medicines for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome is popular. Traditional Chinese herbal medicine is a common practice in the East, and some clinical trials show a benefit of herbal medicines for symptomatic treatment of this condition. This systematic review identified and included 75 randomised clinical trials evaluating the effects of various herbal preparations (including single herbs or mixtures of different herbs) for treating people with irritable bowel syndrome. The review shows that some herbal medicines improve global symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea and/or constipation. However, the methodological quality of the majority of clinical trials evaluating these herbs was generally poor. There is evidence indicating that small, poor quality trials with positive findings are more likely to be associated with exaggerated effects. Although the included trials did not report serious adverse effects from using herbal medicines more research is needed to determine the safety of herbal medicines. In conclusion, herbal medicines might be promising for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. However, it is premature to recommend herbal medicines for routine use in irritable bowel syndrome. Testing the herbs in larger, well‐designed trials is needed in order to establish sound evidence for their use.

Hypnotherapy (treatment by hypnosis) for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

Studies of hypnotherapy for treatment of IBS.

Irritable bowel syndrome: Overview

Abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea are all typical symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Other names for this disorder include nervous stomach or irritable colon. Although IBS is not dangerous, the symptoms can be very painful and bothersome.

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Terms to know

Constipation
A condition in which the stool becomes hard and dry. A person who is constipated usually has fewer than three bowel movements in a week. Bowel movements may be painful.
Diarrhea
Frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements. Common causes include gastrointestinal infections, irritable bowel syndrome, medicines, and malabsorption.
Digestion
The process of breaking down food into substances the body can use for energy, tissue growth, and repair.
Large Intestine
The part of the intestine that includes the appendix, cecum, colon, and rectum. The large intestine absorbs water from stool and changes it from a liquid to a solid form. The large intestine is 5 feet long.

More about Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Photo of an adult

Also called: Adaptive colitis, Colon spasm, Functional bowel disease, Irritable bowel, Irritable colon, Irritable colon syndrome, Membranous colitis, Mucous colitis, Spastic colitis, Spastic colon, IC

Other terms to know: See all 4
Constipation, Diarrhea, Digestion

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How the Intestine Works
Irritable Bowel Syndrome: What Can Help?

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