Irritable Bowel Syndrome


by Celeste Cooper

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional bowel disorder, meaning that function is not normal despite the absence of disease. It is considered to occur more frequently in patients with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, myofascial pain syndrome (MPS), panic disorder, menstruation, and in some migraineurs. The cause is unknown, but many believe IBS occurs because of a disruption in the central nervous system where the brain does not send the right message or bowel receptors interpret signals incorrectly. Certainly, stress and panic can exacerbate an IBS attack, but attacks can occur anytime and are not always related to a stressful event; it can happen even during sleep.

The paradox is that an IBS attack can exacerbate symptoms of comorbid disorders. They can wipe out important nutrients needed to maintain other body systems, and when an attack occurs, it decreases the reserves necessary to deal with other neuro-endocrine-immune disorders.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or spastic colon, refers to a noninflammatory intestinal disorder that is characterized by recurrent cramping abdominal pain, bloating, mucous in the stool, and diarrhea and/or constipation (some people experience both).

Excerpt from: Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain: the Mind-Body Connection. Chapter Two Communicating Your Health Care Needs, pg. 97-98 (See more about the book here.

There are three types of IBS that cause severe abdominal cramping (similar and in some cases worse than those experienced by people with gastroenteritis/ abdominal flu.)

  1. IBS with constipation

  2. IBS with diarrhea

  3. IBS with alternating constipation and diarrhea 

*The same patient can alternate between all three types of IBS, so be sure to discuss your symptoms even if they change. Your physician can make sure you have the medications necessary to help you.

IBS is not known to cause damage to the colon; however, it would be difficult to reassure a patient of this during an attack. There is a profound weakness that occurs after the attack and depending upon the frequency, the patient’s age, and other similar factors, it could be life threatening.

We don’t know for certain what causes IBS, but we do know some things that might help:

  • Try to eat a high fiber diet.
  • Avoid over processed foods or foods with preservatives.
  • Develop routine bowel habits.
  • Control and treat myofascial trigger points that affect the bowel (also pay close attention to adhesions or scars following an injury or surgery).  See Trigger Points here.
  • Avoid medications or foods known to cause constipation, gas or diarrhea when possible. Consume foods known to deter yeast overgrowth, such as those that contain probiotics, like yogurt.
  • Take a probiotic supplement.
  • Find helpful ways of dealing with stress. Even though not all attacks are triggered by stressful events, it is still a good thing to do for your health in general.

A word on probiotics:

In a recent trial, it was found that probiotics do not help with irritable bowel directly. Regardless, it is important to have a healthy bowel free of yeast overgrowth, leaky gut syndrome, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth (all discussed at length here),  which does seem to occur more frequently in certain comorbid conditions to IBS. When we become a limp noodle, because of the water and electrolyte loss that occurs with an attack, we want to ensure we are getting the nutrients at other times. Probiotics are known to help with digestion, which is a process that extracts nutrients from the food we eat. Therefore, a probiotic may help directly or indirectly. You can find a plethora of information on probiotics and IBS at ProHealth here.

Those of us with IBS scope out bathroom locations as soon as we enter a store. We know what local gas station bathrooms look like. Some of us carry rescue devices in our cars, such as a coffee can and roll of toilet paper and disposable wipes. It is comforting to know you will not mess all over yourself, dirty your car, and it eases the anxiety when you begin to cramp uncontrollably.

Everyone knows I regard mindfulness, and positive thinking as tremendous coping tools, however, there is not enough positive feedback to ever ward off an attack when excessive peristalsis begins. Be prepared. You can read more about this in my blog, “Coming Clean on a Dirty Secret, Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” and you can find the link under Celeste Speaks / official blog feed here.


Though IBS is not considered a disease, it can be exacerbated by diseases of the bowel such as, Crohn’s disease and diverticulosis. If you have had a change in your bowel habits, or stool consistency or color, be sure to discuss them with your doctor. There are medications available to help.

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This website receives no revenue. Income generated from book sales is used to provide a free blog, reimbursement for expenses related to advocacy, and volunteer education pieces as health expert for Celeste Cooper hopes you find the content of this website, her blog, her answers on Sharecare, links to her advocacy work through, and her books helpful in your journey.
Read more about the books:

Broken Body Wounded Spirit, Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic PainSpring Devotions 

Broken Body Wounded Spirit, Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain
Winter Devotions

Broken Body Wounded Spirit, Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain, Summer Devotions (here).

Broken Body Wounded Spirit, Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain, Fall Devotions (here).

Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Myofascial Pain: The Mind-Body Connection (here).

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