IBS Fact or Fiction? Separating Common Myths and Truths

May 7th 2016

There are no easy answers for IBS and no specific ways to avoid it, despite popular myths. Talk to a medical professional in an open and honest way about your symptoms and needs, and be prepared to try several different lifestyle changes and treatments to find the combination of actions that works for you.

Causes and Triggers

While many people believe IBS is caused by stress, this is not true. Although stress can make symptoms worse or trigger an attack in a sufferer, the onset of IBS is not caused by lifestyle stress. Not a lot is known about the actual causes of IBS, since no two sufferers experience it in exactly the same way. Current thinking suggests it stems from a disturbance in the way the gut, brain and nervous system interact. This can lead to sufferers misinterpreting sensations or bodily functions reacting in unpredictable ways, which means triggers for symptoms vary widely. There does seem to be a genetic link, as it often occurs within families, but this mechanism is not well understood.

Symptoms and Sufferers

Symptoms of IBS are unpleasant; they include abdominal pain or discomfort along with altered bowel habits. This presents as excessive gas and bloating as well as chronic or recurrent diarrhea, constipation or both. These may happen at the same time or one after the other. Worldwide, somewhere between one in 10 and one in four people are diagnosed with the condition at some stage in their lives, making it much more common than most people think. Because of the unpredictable course of the disease and the wide variation in severity of symptoms, many sufferers find they suffer disruptions to personal and professional activities.

Treatments and Coping Mechanisms

Most people find it very difficult to discuss lavatory functions, and this makes it difficult for sufferers to explain their needs or to give reasons for certain actions such as leaving an event early. This is one of the reasons many people do not realize the common nature of the condition. However, since the condition can only be managed rather than cured, it is important for people to feel they can speak up about their issues and needs. Medical professionals in particular should encourage frank conversations about the exact issues each sufferer experiences to try the right treatment regimes and suggest other coping strategies. Not all treatments work for all sufferers, so a process of trial and error is required to see what is most effective in each case.

Treating acute symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation gives temporary relief, and it can allow sufferers to help plan their schedules without interruption. However, there is no one medication that treats all symptoms at once, so this approach is a case of fighting symptom by symptom and runs a higher risk of drug combination side effects.

Try reducing or increasing the fiber in your diet to see which works best for you. Sufferers report benefits from both courses of action, so it is difficult to predict which is correct for each person. However, increased activity levels are strongly correlated with reduced symptoms, so getting out and moving more seems to be a positive course of action for almost all sufferers.


Irritable bowel syndrome is a very common complaint, but there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding the condition. It is important to know the truth about what IBS actually is, what can make it worse and how to live with this incurable but manageable chronic condition.

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