Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – also known as spastic colon, spastic colitis, mucous colitis and nervous or functional bowel – occurs when the colon does not contract normally (that is, with smooth, rhythmic contractions). Instead, it seems to contract in a disorganized and sometimes violent manner. The contractions may last for prolonged periods of time. You may also experience abdominal discomfort or pain that moves around the abdomen rather than remaining localized in one area.

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A.  The most common factor associated with the symptoms of IBS is stress.  However, certain foods such as coffee, alcohol, spices, raw fruits, vegetables and milk, as well as infections, illnesses, a woman’s menstrual cycle and even changes in the weather can also be associated with flare-ups.

A.  Yes, IBS can lead to an alternating pattern of diarrhea, constipation, bloating and/or abdominal distress.  Some IBS patients see mucous in the stool and become concerned, but this is not a serious problem.

A.  There are a number of approaches that can help:

  • Eating a diet high in roughage and bran can be helpful. You can also take over-the-counter bulking agents such as psyllium mucilloid (Metamucil, Konsyl) or methylcellulose (Citrucel). You may also benefit from eating smaller, more frequent meals to block the “spastic” reflex.
  • Antispasmodic medications can help relax the muscles in the wall of the colon, reducing the bowel pressure.  Mild sedatives can also help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Exercise is very beneficial in helping the bowel relax even during non-exercise periods.
  • Stress reduction techniques, like breathing exercises, can be helpful in reducing symptoms.