Irritable bowel syndrome isn’t caused by an infection and cannot be passed on to other people.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) isn’t really a singular condition with an exact cause. Instead, it’s a group of conditions that can cause a variety of abdominal discomforts.

In this article, you will learn what symptoms are usually associated with IBS, and possible causes. You’ll also learn how long these symptoms usually last, and when to see a healthcare professional.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a collection of symptoms rather than a single diagnosis. Generally, IBS is not infectious in nature or contagious. This means that you won’t pass your symptoms of IBS on to other people.

However, people with IBS are often at a high risk of developing other gastrointestinal problems, including infections that are contagious. Post-infectious IBS is one particular form of IBS where an infection triggers a host of inflammatory gut changes that cause symptoms like abdominal pain, bowel changes, or bloating.

These infections can be passed from one person to another, but the result will typically be an isolated infection rather than chronic or ongoing bowel problems. Some of the bacteria most often linked to these infections include:

Many of these infections are food-borne illnesses, though, meaning you may develop an infection from contaminated food or water. It’s not common that these infections be passed from one person to the next.

IBS is known as a functional bowel problem. That means the root of your symptoms is some sort of miscommunication between your brain and gut function.

There are many things that can lead to this dysfunction, but IBS isn’t usually inherited and unless it’s post-infectious IBS is not contagious.

The main causes of IBS center around individual traits and lifestyle factors. Diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on the speed of your digestion, and slow-moving bowels can contribute to problems with IBS.

Other risk factors linked to the development of IBS include things like:

  • stress
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • other mental health disorders
  • bacterial infections
  • imbalances in your natural gut flora
  • food allergies or sensitivities

Some of the most common symptoms associated with IBS include things like:

  • abdominal cramping
  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • mucous in your stool
  • changes in your bowel movements
  • a lingering feeling of fullness after a bowel movement

If you develop severe pain, blood in your stool, or you notice unexplained weight loss, talk with your doctor. Many gastrointestinal symptoms are vague, and additional testing may be required to make an exact diagnosis for your condition.

How long IBS lasts depends on why you developed the problem in the first place.

People who develop IBS after an infection or other medical condition may see symptoms improve with treatment of the underlying problem.

Medications, and diet and lifestyle choices that contribute to IBS symptoms can also be examined and possibly changed to help alleviate symptoms. This can include taking steps like:

  • increasing your fiber intake
  • avoiding certain foods
  • talking with your doctor about your medication options
  • getting regular exercise

However, IBS is typically thought of as long-term gut issues, which can last weeks or years.

Is IBS genetic?

IBS isn’t genetic, but there are some genes that could play a role in causing some IBS symptoms. For example, people who have IBS symptoms may deal with a variety of gastrointestinal issues, including food allergies. Food allergies can be passed through family genetics. However, you may have other symptoms related to IBS that are not all genetic in nature.

How do you treat IBS symptoms?

The treatment of your IBS symptoms will depend on what underlying contributors there are, and what other medical conditions you may have. Bacterial infections like those caused by E. coli can pass quickly on their own or be treated with antibiotics.

On the other hand, IBS symptoms caused by things like inherited food allergies can’t be cured. If your IBS is caused by a food allergy or sensitivity, avoiding those foods is usually the best course of treatment. If you develop IBS because of another medical condition or medication, talk with your doctor about your symptoms, and what options you might have to change medications or better treat the underlying cause.

What is infectious PI-IBS?

Infectious PI-IBS is gastrointestinal upset that develops after an infection with a virus or bacteria. These infections can come on suddenly and disappear as quickly, but the irritation that results can last longer. Inflammation is usually the biggest problem with PI-IBS, but most people who deal with this particular type of IBS usually make a full recovery with very limited treatment, if any.

Is there an IBS diet?

An IBS diet is really any diet that focuses on improving your overall gut health. In many cases, an IBS diet will include any number of the following elements:

  • regular meals
  • eating slowly
  • consuming 25–30 grams of fiber daily
  • drinking enough water
  • avoiding highly caffeinated beverages
  • limiting or avoiding alcohol
  • reducing intake of gas-producing food and drink
  • limiting sugary foods and drinks
  • identifying and avoiding specific trigger foods

Some people with IBS have good results by following a low FODMAP diet.

IBS can cause a variety of symptoms. This condition sometimes develops after an infection, but there’s really a wide range of issues associated with IBS symptoms. If you experience ongoing gastrointestinal problems or discomfort, talk with your healthcare professional about changes you can make, or testing you can get to rule out any other digestive problems.