Top 10 Myths About Irritable Bowel Syndrome

"IBS is just the diagnosis they give you when they can't figure out what's wrong."

"IBS is from stress. If you just learn how to relax you'll feel better."

"It's all in your head."

Do any of these myths about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) sound familiar to you? Perhaps you've heard them from family or friends over the years to dismiss your "tummy troubles." Learn the truth behind some of the things you may have heard.


IBS Is an Uncommon Condition

Woman with stomach pain

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IBS is very common. It's estimated that 24% of women in the United States have IBS. Men also develop IBS, though at a lower rate. In the U.S. and other Western countries, IBS affects three times more women than men, but in other parts of the world, IBS is more common in men.


IBS Pain Is Not Debilitating

Man clutching stomach


Some people report that the pain caused by IBS is more of an annoyance, but others describe it as intolerable. The pain may lessen with a bowel movement, but the pain is continuous and debilitating for some.


IBS Is Caused by Stress

Woman stressed out at work

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IBS is a functional disorder and is not caused by emotions or stress. Some people with IBS find that their symptoms are made worse by stress, but stress itself does not cause the problem.


IBS Can Lead to IBD or Colon Cancer

Colon cancer light micrograph

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IBS does not get worse, change into another condition, or harm the intestine. IBS does not lead to or cause colon cancer. Some people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may also have IBS, but having IBS does not lead to IBD.


IBS Is the Same Thing as Colitis

Woman with illustration of large intestine on her

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Colitis is a term that refers to inflammation in the large intestine. IBS does not cause inflammation in the intestine, so it is a different condition than colitis. People with IBD may have colitis, but colitis can also be caused by many other conditions, including an infection.


Blood In The Stool Is a Symptom of IBS

Stool Test Results

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IBS never causes the colon to bleed because it does not cause inflammation or colitis. Any blood seen in the stool or on the toilet paper should be discussed with a doctor immediately because it is not a symptom of IBS.


IBS Only Causes Diarrhea

Psyllium Pills

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IBS can cause either diarrhea and constipation, and sometimes it can cause both. IBS actually has three forms: diarrhea-predominant (IBS-D), constipation-predominant (IBS-C), and mixed bowel habits (IBS-M). IBS-D is the most common form, followed by IBS-C and IBS-M.


IBS Only Causes Intestinal Symptoms

He could sleep the whole day away
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IBS has been linked to other conditions and symptoms outside the intestine. IBS can also cause fatigue, loss of appetite, and nausea or vomiting (though this symptom is uncommon). It is also associated with fibromyalgia, anxiety disorders, and depression.


Enemas Are Safe to Treat Constipation

Woman with irritable bowel syndrome
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Enemas may be prescribed by a physician at certain times, such as before a colonoscopy, but an enema should not be used to treat constipation on a consistent basis. Over time, the persistent use of enemas can damage the muscles in the large intestine, causing abnormal function and leading to further complications.


There Is No Way to Diagnose IBS

Colonoscope Controls

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IBS is often diagnosed after tests have ruled out other conditions that have similar symptoms, such as IBD and infection. However, a set of criteria, called the Rome Criteria, can be used to diagnose IBS. 

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