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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disease of the large intestine, it causes changes in bowel habits alongside bloating and abdominal cramping. It also induces diarrhea in some people while some have constipation.

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There are other names for this condition, some of them are spastic colon, irritable colon, irritable bowel, nervous stomach, and others. Some experts believe IBS occurs when the gut responds to stress.

Some people go back and forth between diarrhea and constipation, this condition does not harm your intestines but it causes a great deal of discomforts and undesirable symptoms.

IBS is a common disease, women are more prone to this condition than men and it mostly affect people younger than 45 years of age. There are no specific tests for IBS, you doctor just run tests to rule out other diseases.

Some of the tests that will be carried out are X-rays, blood tests, and stool sampling. Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy can also be carried out.

The symptoms of IBS can be are controlled with healthy diet, probiotics, medicine, and stress management. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is different from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

IBS is not a life-threatening condition

Types of Irritable Bowel Syndromes

There are four categories of irritable bowel syndrome, and they have equal prevalence.

  • IBS-D: This type causes abdominal discomfort and diarrhea
  • IBS-C: This type is characterized by abdominal discomforts and constipation
  • IBS-Mixed: This type of IBS causes constipation and loose stools followed by abdominal discomforts.
  • IBS-U: This undefined type of IBS have different types of symptoms

Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The main cause/causes of IBS are not yet known but scientists have found out that the muscles of people with IBS contract easily than those who don’t have IBS. IBS patients also have a low tolerance for pain.

IBS can also be triggered by emotional stress, medicines, and certain foods, and it can come and go throughout life. It does not increase your risk of colorectal cancer and it doesn’t cause changes in your bowel tissues.

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Some factors that play roles in IBS are:

Contractions of the intestinal muscles

There are layers of muscles lined on the walls of your intestines, these muscles contract as food moves through your digestive tract.

When these contractions are strong ad last for a longer time than usual, they cause diarrhea, bloating, and gas, but if the contraction is weak, it leads to hard and dry stools and the slow passage of food through the digestive tract.

Changes in microflora

Changes in the bacteria present in your gut can cause IBS. The healthy bacteria present in your intestines play a great role in your health, especially in improving your defense system.

Studies have revealed that the microflora in IBS patients is different from that of healthy people.

Nervous system

Abnormalities in the nerves of your digestive system can cause a great deal of discomfort when your abdomen stretches from stool or gas.

When the signals between your brain and intestines are poorly coordinated, your body can overreact, especially in the process of digestion and this will result in pains and diarrhea.

Severe Infection

Sometimes IBS can be caused by a severe case of gastroenteritis (diarrhea) triggered by virus or bacterial.

IBS can also be triggered by an excess of bacteria in your gut. This is known as bacterial overgrowth.

Inflammation of the intestines

IBS patients have an increased number of immune system cells in their intestines and this immune response is associated with diarrhea and pains.

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Triggers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Some factors can trigger the symptoms of IBS and the most common triggers are:


The signs and symptoms of IBS get worse with stress or they become more frequent. Stress aggravates the symptoms of IBS and prolongs the condition.


Changes in the levels of hormones play a role in activating the symptoms of IBS. Women are twice more likely to have IBS than men because they have hormonal changes especially during menstruation and menopause.

Many women experience severe symptoms of IBS during or around their menstrual periods.


Although the role or the mechanism of action of food intolerance or allergies in IBS is not well understood, true food allergy causes IBS on rare occasions.

Some people have aggravated symptoms when they eat certain foods or drink certain beverages. This includes citrus fruits, wheat, carbonated drinks, dairy products, milk, cabbage, and beans.

Complications of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS cause a lot of health complications if it is not well handled. IBS cause chronic diarrhea and constipation and this can lead to hemorrhoids. Irritable bowel syndrome is also associated with mood disorders and a poor quality of life.

The signs and symptoms of IBS can make the patient depressed or anxious. Anxiety and depression can also make IBS worse.

Irritable bowel syndrome also leads to a poor quality of life, some patients of IBS cannot even go out to work, school, or engage in their usual routine or hobbies.

IBS patients miss more days from work than healthy people.

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Risk Factors of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A lot of people have occasional signs and symptoms of IBS but you are more prone to the symptoms if you:

  • Are a female, women have the highest risks of IBS than men because of the hormonal changes they pass through on a monthly basis. Estrogen therapy before or after menopause increases the risk of IBS.
  • Are young, IBS is frequent in people who are in their late teens to under 50 years of age.
  • Have a mental health problem; these disorders such as depression and anxiety and other mental problems raise the risk of IBS. Sexual, emotional, and physical abuse might also be a risk factor.
  • Family history, if you have a family history of IBS, you might be at risk of this condition.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Abdominal pains and discomforts are the main symptoms of IBS, these are caused by changes in your bowel habits.

The abdominal pains come in different ways such as a sharp pain, burning, fullness, distention, bloating, and cramping.

Other signs and symptoms of IBS are:

  • A feeling of incomplete evacuation after stooling
  • Excessive gas
  • Urgency or a sudden urge to use the bathroom
  • Loser or harder bowel movement
  • Presence of mucus in stools
  • Passing of mucus from the back passage or rectum
  • Swelling or bloating of the abdomen

These symptoms can get worse after eating and you can have a flare-up for 2 to 4 days before they improve or go away completely.

IBS patients can also experience symptoms that are unrelated to the intestines, these include:

  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Bad breath or halitosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Muscles and joint pains
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Anxiety
  • Constant fatigue
  • Sleeplessness and sleep disturbances
  • Painful sexual intercourse in women
  • Migraine headaches
  • Irregular menstruation

Some individuals with IBS can tolerate these symptoms and go about their daily activities while some people are affected by these symptoms that they can’t go about their daily routine.

Some can’t even go to school or work, IBS can reduce the quality of life in some individuals. Stress triggers the onset of these symptoms and even makes them worse. The symptoms of IBS improve when the stress is relieved.

Other people can experience random episodes of IBS and this type has no obvious triggers. Some people can also experience these symptoms for a long time and followed by a long time of symptom-free period.

When to See a Doctor?

If you have persistent changes in bowel habits or other signs of IBS, you have to see a doctor immediately because these shows the presence of a more severe medical condition like colon cancer.

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Signs and symptoms you should watch out for are:

  • Persistent pain that can’t be relieved by a bowel movement or passing gas
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Night diarrhea
  • Unexplained vomiting
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Iron deficiency anemia


  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome NIDDK
  • Symptoms and Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome NIDDK
  • Herbal Medicines for the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome NCBI
  • Natural Elimination of IBS Symptoms AANP
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Ebiojo David
I am a Biochemist and Naturopath, I love writing and educating people on health and wellness matters.
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