Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic continuous or remittent functional gastrointestinal disorder, characterized by abdominal discomfort or pain often reported as cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation. IBS affects the colon, or large bowel, which is the part of the digestive tract that stores stool.
IBS is not a disease.
In the 1960s, IBS was described as a disorder of civilization and thus more common in the West. Today as many as 20 percent of the adult population, or one in five Americans, have symptoms of IBS, with a strong female predominance. However, recent medical reports from Asia indicate that the incidence of irritable bowel syndrome in young adults is not dissimilar to the one in the Western countries.
In Malaysia, Dr Yan-Mei Tan and colleagues at the University of Malaya found a prevalence rate of 15.8% amongst 533 medical students with a mean age of 22 years. There were significantly more women with IBS than men.
The Rome Committee for the Classification of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders has defined IBS on the basis of abdominal and bowel symptoms that occur with sufficient
frequency in affected patients.
More precisely, abdominal discomfort or pain must be observed for at least 3 days every month, for 3 months consecutive. The pain has two of the following three features:
1) Relief by or associated with a bowel movement
2) Onset associated with a change in the frequency of stool
(eg the feeling that you have not finished a bowel movement, chronic diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both)
3) Onset associated with a change in the form of the stool eg whitish mucus in the stool.
IBS causes a great deal of discomfort and distress, but it does not permanently harm the intestines and does not lead to serious diseases such as cancer.
Because symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can occur with other diseases, it's best to discuss these symptoms with your doctor.
Most people can control their symptoms with diet, lifestyle and stress management.
For some, however, IBS can be disabling and may need prescribed medications.
Tan YM, Goh KL, Muhidayah R, Ooi CL, Salem O. Prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome in young adult Malaysians: a survey among medical students. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2003 Dec;18(12):1412-6