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IBS Usually Falls into One of Three Categories

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome related image Photo: Getty Images

To get a better understanding of irritable bowel syndrome, which affects about 20 percent of American adults with varying severity, you can break it down this way: For about one-third of patients the dominant problem is diarrhea. For another third, it’s constipation. And for the remaining third, it’s a combination of diarrhea and constipation.

For a condition still eluding full medical knowledge, that’s a helpful explanation, and it comes from Dr. William D. Chey, a digestive system expert from the University of Michigan, who was discussing possible new drug treatments for irritable bowel syndrome in a Sept. 13, 2010, story in The New York Times.

Chey said that laxatives can relieve constipation but often do not help with abdominal pain. Certain drugs can zero in on the pain yet make the constipation worse, he said, adding that a drug that can treat both constipation and pain may be on the horizon.

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse points out that IBS is called a “syndrome” because it can involve so many signs and symptoms -- abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, sensitivity to certain foods and beverages, and sensitivity to medications, along with digestive reactions to stress, emotions and conflict.

Over the years IBS has gone by such names as colitis, spastic colon and spastic bowel, yet no link has been established between IBS and the two main inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the NDDIC said.

Women seem to suffer from IBS more than men, and for about half of IBS patients, the symptoms begin before age 35. For many people, the symptoms come and go, and it’s hard to establish a pattern.

In time, a better understanding of the connection between IBS and the nervous system, hormones and inflammation might lead to better treatments, the NDDIC said.

The Irritable Bowel Syndrome Self Help and Support Group at ibsgroup.org has a page explaining the various medications that have been approved for IBS, with a number of advantages and disadvantages listed for each drug. The page also displays a chart of related medications and over-the-counter treatments.

Realize that pharmaceutical companies are always testing IBS-related drugs, and there has been some buzz lately about linaclotide for chronic constipation and abdominal discomfort. As of the summer of 2011, it was in clinical trials.

When you seek advice from your health care practitioner, be ready to describe how often your IBS symptoms are occurring, under what circumstances and how severe.


Pollack, Andrew. “Drug for Irritable Bowel Achieves Goals in Trial.” The New York Times. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/health/research/14bowel.html

“Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs

“Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Medications and Drugs.” IBSGroup.org. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. http://www.ibsgroup.org/medications

Reviewed October 24, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment6 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

We at the Irritable Bowel Syndrome Circle have a hypothesis on the causes and the consequent cure for some IBS sufferers. We need volunteers for non-medical, non-pharmaceutical, non-dietary and non-invasive research. It's just a practical regime. Volunteers should check the website http://www.irritablebowelsyndrome-circle.com and sign up interest in the research programm which we will start once we have adecent number of sufferers who want to help themselves and possibly others in the long run...

January 5, 2012 - 11:52am

Glad you brought up the brain-gut connection in regard to IBS. Thanks for your input.

October 26, 2011 - 4:13pm
EmpowHER Guest

Thank you for your very informative article! As one of the moderators on ibsgroup.org, and a past IBS sufferer myself, I know the impact having this condition can have on your life. After years of suffering, I found out about the use of clinical hypnotherapy through other members several years ago, when my gastroenterologist had given up on me. Clinical hypnotherapy was the treatment that was most beneficial to me when no other medication, diet or supplement helped. I used a 100 day hypnotherapy program from England ( IBS Audio Program 100) which addressed the brain-gut component of IBS and also eliminated or reduced IBS symptoms of urgency, pain, and motility problems. I was pretty much housebound with severe refractory IBS, and so this was life-changing to me and has been helpful to many others on our support boards as well.

October 25, 2011 - 12:38am
(reply to Anonymous)

I have been suffering from IBS for 20 long years. How do I find out about this Clinical therapy. Medications just don't seem to work for me. Please help !!

October 27, 2011 - 7:36am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Penps)

You can call their North American patient support associate for free information on the IBS audio program of clinical hypnotherapy and IBS at 877-898-2539 and they will be happy to assist you with any questions you may have. Alternatively, you can visit the British website healthyaudio for information. There are also gastroenterologists who refer their patients to this therapy. Hope that helps. :)

October 27, 2011 - 1:18pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Thank You !!

October 31, 2011 - 3:48pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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