Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a type of gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that causes frequent changes in your bowel movements. People with IBS also have other symptoms such as abdominal pain.
While IBS is often talked about as a standalone condition, it’s actually an umbrella of different syndromes.
Just as your symptoms may vary based on your condition, knowing the exact type of IBS you have is important in determining the correct treatment.
As a functional GI disorder, IBS is caused by disruptions in the way your brain and gut interact with one another. It’s often a chronic (long-term) GI disorder that primarily develops before age 50.
It’s estimated that between
When you think of IBS, some telling symptoms may come to mind, including:
As such, IBS comes in multiple forms. These include IBS-C, IBS-D, and IBS-M/IBS-A. Sometimes IBS may develop as a result of an intestinal infection or diverticulitis, too.
It’s important to pay close attention to your symptoms so your doctor can provide you with a more accurate diagnosis. Knowing the type of IBS you have can then lead to better treatment measures.
IBS with constipation, or IBS-C, is one of the more common types.
You may have this form of IBS if your abnormal bowel movement days consist of stools that are at least 25 percent hard or lumpy, but also less than 25 percent loose in consistency.
With this type of IBS, you’ll experience fewer bowel movements overall, and you may sometimes strain to go when you do have them. IBS-C can also cause abdominal pain that accompanies gas and bloating.
IBS-D is also known as IBS with diarrhea. This type of IBS causes the opposite issues with IBS-C.
With IBS-D, more than a quarter of stools on your abnormal bowel movement days are loose, while less than a quarter are hard and lumpy.
If you have IBS-D, you may also feel abdominal pain along with more frequent urges to go. Excessive gas is also common.
IBS-M or IBS-A
Some people have another type called IBS with mixed bowel habits, or IBS-M. IBS-M is also sometimes called IBS with alternating constipation and diarrhea (IBS-A).
If you have this form of IBS, your stools on abnormal bowel movement days will be both hard and watery. Both must occur at least 25 percent of the time each, in order to be classified as IBS-M or IBS-A.
Post-infectious (PI) IBS refers to symptoms that occur after you’ve had a GI infection. After your infection, you may still have chronic inflammation along with issues with gut flora and intestinal permeability.
Diarrhea is the most prominent sign of PI-IBS. Vomiting may also occur.
It’s estimated that anywhere from
If you’ve had diverticulitis, you may be at risk of developing IBS.
Diverticulitis occurs when the small pouches that line the lower part of your large intestine — called diverticula — get infected or inflamed.
The condition itself causes nausea, abdominal pain, and fever, along with constipation.
Post-diverticulitis IBS is just one possible complication following diverticulitis. While similar in symptoms to PI-IBS, this type of IBS occurs after diverticulitis has been treated.
Given the complexity of IBS and its subtypes, there isn’t one single treatment measure used.
Instead, treatment focuses on a combination of:
- medications and supplements
- dietary changes
- adopting healthy lifestyle habits
Medications and supplements
Certain IBS medications are used to either treat constipation or diarrhea. Treatment for IBS-A/IBS-M may require combination treatments for diarrhea and constipation management.
Constipation for IBS may be treated with:
- linaclotide (Linzess)
- lubiprostone (Amitiza)
- plecanatide (Trulance)
- supplements, such as fiber and laxatives
Conversely, diarrhea-dominant IBS treatment can consist of the following options:
- alosetron (Lotronex) for women only
- antibiotics, such as rifaximin (Xifaxan)
- eluxadoline (Viberzi)
- loperamide (Diamode, Imodium A-D)
Probiotics may also be recommended if your gut flora has been disrupted from either an intestinal infection or diverticulitis. These may also benefit other forms of IBS.
While more research needs to be done on the benefits of probiotics for IBS, taking these supplements could help alleviate uncomfortable GI symptoms.
If you have IBS, you may notice that certain foods aggravate your symptoms more than others.
Your doctor might also recommend that you avoid so-called “high gas” foods, such as:
- carbonated beverages
- cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli
- raw fruits
If you have constipation-dominant IBS, eating more fiber can help increase the frequency of your bowel movements. Increase your fiber intake by eating more plant-based foods. Since eating more fiber can cause more gas, you’ll want to increase your intake gradually.
Sometimes, the development of IBS may be related to other underlying health concerns. Treating and managing such conditions could in turn improve your IBS symptoms.
Talk to a doctor if you have any of the following:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- indigestion (dyspepsia)
- intolerance or sensitivity to certain foods
- chronic stress
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- chronic pain
There’s no known cure for PI-IBS. Your doctor may recommend similar medications used to treat IBS-D, since diarrhea is a known problem with post-infectious forms of IBS.
Chronic stress management may also help, along with dietary changes and regular exercise.
While all types of IBS can have similar symptoms, each form may cause differences in bowel movements.
The underlying causes of IBS can also vary, which can change the course of treatment and management.
Keeping track of your symptoms and their severity can help your doctor make a more informed diagnosis.