Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal condition characterized by abdominal pain and cramps; changes in bowel movements (diarrhea, constipation, or both); gassiness; bloating; nausea; and other symptoms. There is no recognized cure for IBS. Much about the condition remains unknown or poorly understood; however, dietary changes, drugs, and psychological treatment are often able to eliminate or substantially reduce its symptoms.
IBS is the name people use today for a condition that was once called colitis, spastic colon, nervous colon, spastic bowel, and functional bowel disorder. Some of these names reflected the now outdated belief that IBS is a purely psychological disorder, and a product of the patient's imagination. Although modern medicine recognizes that stress can trigger IBS attacks, medical specialists agree that IBS is a genuine physical disorder, or group of disorders, with specific identifiable characteristics.
No one knows for sure how many Americans suffer from IBS. Surveys indicate a range of 10-20%, with perhaps as many as 30% of Americans experiencing IBS at some point in their lives. IBS normally makes its first appearance during young adulthood, and in half of all cases, symptoms begin before age 35. Women with IBS outnumber men by two to one, for reasons not yet understood. IBS is responsible for more time lost from work and school than any medical problem other than the common cold . It accounts for a substantial proportion of the patients seen by gastroenterologists, who are specialists in diseases of the digestive system. Yet only half--possibly as few as 15%--of IBS sufferers ever consult a doctor.