Irritable bowel syndrome: causes, symptoms, treatment

Irritable bowel syndrome involves cramping of the large intestine, causing symptoms such as abdominal pain and constipation. What are the causes and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or spastic colon. How can the diagnosis be made, what are the treatment options and what is the prognosis?

Article content

  • Colon
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Causes of irritable bowel syndrome
  • Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
  • To the doctor
  • Diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome
  • Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome
  • Irritable bowel syndrome prognosis
  • Some tips for living with irritable bowel syndrome



The large intestine is also called colon or colon. It is the part of the intestine between the small intestine and rectum. You can divide the large intestine into the ascending part (ascending colon), the transverse part (transverse colon) and the descending part (descending colon) and the sigmoid (s-shaped intestine). Most of the digestion takes place in the small intestine. The large intestine removes water and salts from the undigested food remains and these are absorbed into the blood. This causes the stool to thicken and is stored in the rectum until bowel movements.

Irritable bowel syndrome

It is a combination of alternating abdominal pain, constipation and/or diarrhea. Irritable bowel syndrome, also called spastic colon, usually occurs between the ages of twenty and thirty and is twice as common in women. Sometimes it occurs more often in certain families. Two out of ten people develop symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome at some point in their lives. The condition requires more consultations with doctors than other conditions. The intestinal cramps can cause concern, but never lead to serious difficulties.

Causes of irritable bowel syndrome

It is not known what the exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is. It is possible that the contractions of the muscles in the wall of the intestine do not proceed properly. Furthermore, an increasing sensitivity to certain foods may play a role. Think of fruit, fat and sorbitol. Irritable bowel syndrome can also occur after an infection of the stomach and intestines (gastroenteritis). Heredity could be a factor, irritable bowel syndrome sometimes runs in certain families. Tension, anxiety and gloomy moods can make the complaints worse.

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome

  • The complaints occur intermittently;
  • The symptoms often manifest themselves over many years;
  • Someone can continue to suffer from problems until an old age;
  • The complaints can vary greatly from person to person;
  • The complaints can vary considerably per attack.



  • The abdomen swells;
  • Someone can make big fuss;
  • Pain in the abdomen, usually in the lower left abdomen;
  • Diarrhoea, worst when getting up. Sometimes you see an alternation with constipation, in the form of ‘rabbit droppings’;
  • This pain often decreases when someone has had a bowel movement or after wind;
  • There may be mucus in the stool;
  • Having the idea that the intestine is not completely empty;
  • Feeling nauseous;
  • Vomit;
  • Feeling full;
  • Not being able to finish a meal completely;
  • General complaints can occur such as a tired feeling, pain in the head, pain in the back, increased urge to urinate;
  • In women, pain may occur during sexual intercourse;
  • The complaints surrounding menstruation can worsen.


To the doctor

If you are concerned, go to your doctor. Especially if the complaints are severe, last a long time or keep recurring. If you lose a lot of weight, it is also important to consult a doctor. If you are over forty years old, it is a good idea to have yourself examined to rule out a serious condition such as colon cancer (the symptoms are similar).

Diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome

There is no specific test that can diagnose irritable bowel syndrome. You will be asked about the complaints and a physical examination will be performed. If the complaints are serious and abnormal and if certain diseases run in the family, further research can be done to rule out a serious disease. Further research can also be done if you are over forty years old. Blood tests can be used to determine whether there is inflammation, such as Chrohn’s disease. If inflammation is indeed found or if a tumor in the intestine is suspected, an X-ray contrast photo of the intestines or a colonoscopy can be made. Food intolerance or lactose intolerance may need to be ruled out (associated with similar symptoms).

Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

The symptoms are very troublesome, but irritable bowel syndrome is not serious. You can probably influence the symptoms yourself by paying attention to what kind of diet is best and by applying techniques that ensure relaxation. If the symptoms are serious, you should of course seek advice from your GP. Completing a food diary is very helpful in figuring out what seems to be triggering an attack of intestinal cramps. You can obtain further leaflets about how to tackle the condition from your GP or hospital. Medicines can reduce diarrhea, especially in people who experience it when they get up. Laxatives can be prescribed for constipation. If you have mental problems, you may be referred, and psychotherapy can help.

Irritable bowel syndrome prognosis

Irritable bowel syndrome is often a chronic condition that persists into old age. Over time, the attacks may become less frequent and less intense.

Some tips for living with irritable bowel syndrome

  • High fiber and low fat diet.
  • Keep a food diary.
  • Don’t eat too much, avoid foods that are spicy, fried, or fatty.
  • Stop or drink less tea, coffee, milk, cola, beer.
  • Try to eat at regular times.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Relaxation exercises can reduce stress.
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