Constipation, diarrhea and bloating. Everyone has stomach trouble from time to time. But, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, can keep the bowels in constant turmoil and make daily life challenging.

IBS is a chronic stomach disorder that causes pain, recurring diarrhea or constipation, or both. Frequent trips to the bathroom are only part of the battle. Common symptoms such as reflux, gas and feeling full or bloated, combined with constipation and/or diarrhea, can mean missing days of work, arriving late for appointments and sitting on the sidelines at social events.

Red Flags

It can be tough to determine when stomach trouble is temporary and when it’s something more serious. Call your primary care doctor if you experience:

  • Abdominal pain that prevents sleep
  • Abnormal lab work, such as results that indicate anemia
  • Diarrhea that wakes you
  • Rectal bleeding or bloody stools
  • Weight loss

IBS Diagnosis Criteria

Doctors use specific criteria to make an IBS diagnosis. The most common indication is stomach pain that occurs at least one day a week, on average, for three consecutive months and that is associated with two or more of the following:

  • Stomach pain that improves after a bowel movement
  • Changes in how often you have a bowel movement
  • Changes in bowel movement (constipation, diarrhea or both)

Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in treating gastrointestinal tract diseases, for tests that can rule out other reasons for your symptoms.

“Changes to diet and lifestyle are usually the first steps.”

Treatment Options

“IBS is treated on a case-by-case basis,” said Donald J. Clement, MD, a gastroenterologist with Consultants in Gastroenterology, said. “Changes to diet and lifestyle are usually the first steps. Medication may also help treat various symptoms.”

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