How Common is IBS?


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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s also known as spastic colon, irritable bowel syndrome, and functional gut disorder.

The main reasons for why IBS is common is all about individual vulnerabilities—adverse effects from foods, emotional well-being, and genetic predispositions.

This article will cover more details of just how common IBS is and why it can be as prevalent as the common cold. 

How Common is IBS?

IBS affects 10-15% of the world’s population. In the United States alone, 25-45 million people have IBS. 

IBS is characterized by:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Discomfort
  • Bloating and flatulence
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Presence of mucus in stool
  • Feeling of having had an incomplete bowel movement
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea (Motion Sickness and IBS Symptoms)

Other symptoms – such as a change in the frequency of bowel movements or their appearance, feelings of uncontrollable urgency to have a bowel movement, inability to, or difficulty, passing stool – may be present.

Weight loss, fever, bleeding, and persistent severe pain are not symptoms of IBS, but may indicate other problems such as bowel inflammation or infection, polyps or cancer.

Read more about IBS Associated Symptoms.

Why is IBS So Common?

To answer this question, consider why one person contracts whatever is going around, and another remains healthy and immune?

It all boils down to individual vulnerabilities: the adverse effects of food (the standard American diet as well as individual sensitivities/allergies), emotional well-being and, of course, genetics.

1. Toxins in Body

One of the main reasons IBS is so common is a direct result of the toxins backed up in our system.

Much of our standard American diet consists of processed, junk, carbonated drinks, and fake foods, which can be full of toxins, chemicals, and additives. We even eat foods that contain ingredients such as polypropylene; this chemical, also found in antifreeze, is used in food packaging.

Since more than sixty percent of our immune system is contained within the intestines, dealing with potential toxins is of vital concern. That’s especially true when it comes to the diet of American children.

Learn more about the foods to avoid during IBS flare-ups

2. Food Sensitivities

IBS is an indication that something is wrong, and there are likely multiple causes, like food intolerances.

If you have a food allergy to, like gluten or dairy, ingesting food containing these products will irritate your gut.

Your immune system will turn its attention to dealing with the food it considers to be an irritant, rather than focusing on the function of providing you with immunity to illness.  This can lead to symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea.

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3. Emotional Well Being

Digestive problems have long been associated with distress. We’re all human, but each of us responds differently to the emotional challenges of life.

Many of us have learned to cope with troubles by soldiering bravely on. Eventually, however, if left unchecked, stress will get the better of us, and our unresolved emotional baggage may turn up as a physical ailment such as IBS.

For many people, irritable bowel syndrome is an emotional response to the challenges of daily living. This is why behavioral therapy is used as an IBS treatment to improve quality of life. 

4. Genetics 

Family history can play a role in the chances that you also have IBS. A family member could increase your chances of having this medical condition by 2-3 times. 

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that up to 20 percent of people who suffer from IBS may inherit their condition. In addition, they discovered that there were several gene variations associated with IBS which could help predict its development.

IBS Is Not Life Threatening

While irritable bowel syndrome causes a great deal of discomfort and distress, it does not permanently harm the intestines.

IBS is in no way fatal, nor does it lead to other conditions such as ulcerative colitis, malnutrition, and/or cancer.

In order to manage this syndrome, however, it is vital to be aware of the role that food and toxins can play, supplements available to alleviate symptoms, and coping strategies to ease the psychological factors related to IBS.

IBS is Common Final Thoughts

All in all, IBS is a common condition that affects a significant portion of the population. It’s also one of the most frustrating and confusing conditions to treat, because IBS can be so hard to diagnose.

The good news is that there are many effective treatments available for this condition, including dietary changes, stress management techniques, and medications.

Learn more about How to Diagnose IBS.

Do You Have IBS? Quiz

Julie C. Guider MyGoodGut

Medically reviewed by Julie Guider, M.D.

Dr. Julie Guider earned her medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine. She completed residency in internal medicine at the University of Virginia. She completed her general gastroenterology and advanced endoscopy fellowships at University of Texas-Houston. She is a member of several national GI societies including the AGA, ACG, and ASGE as well as state and local medical societies.