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Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS or spastic colon, is a catch-all diagnosis for a constellation of symptoms that present with chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, and either frequent diarrhea or constipation. A diagnosis of IBS is based on a lengthy differential diagnosis is completed and no other organic cause for the symptoms can be determined, making IBS a diagnosis of exclusion. Although its causes are unknown, it does tend to present in patients who have had a recent intestinal infection, in those who have suffered a major life stress (such as loss of employment or loss of a spouse), and the elderly. Although it is never fatal, it is incurable and can frequently be dehabilitating.
Doctors must be careful of jumping to a conclusion of IBS as several diseases have identical symptoms and are very treatable. Infection, celiac disease, gastric ulcer, parasites, and even lactose intolerance are commonly misdiagnosed as IBS.
Once diagnoses, most patients find relief by eating more fiber, taking anti-spasm medication, and even from using peppermint oil. Laxatives can be given to treat constipation. Many patients find their symptoms improve when they use techniques to deal with stress or when they increase their exercise.