Myths And Misconceptions Of IBS

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed December 2022 | Last updated: December 2022

After being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), there is still a lot to understand about this chronic condition. Many misconceptions exist about IBS. It is important to get the facts right. Knowing the myths and truths of IBS will help you better understand the disease and the best treatment options available for you.

Myth 1: IBS symptoms are the same for everyone.

This common myth is not true. IBS is a group of symptoms that can vary for each person. People with IBS typically have stomach pain along with changes in bowel movements, such as constipation, diarrhea, or alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea. Stomach pain is commonly described as a cramping sensation, which at times may be severe.1-3

Other IBS symptoms may include:1,2

  • Bloating and gas
  • Belching
  • Acid reflux
  • Nausea
  • Feeling of fullness
  • Difficulty swallowing

IBS symptoms also differ between men and women. For instance, women are more likely to have IBS with constipation (IBS-C), while men are more likely to have IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D).3,4

Myth 2: IBS is caused by stress.

The exact cause of IBS is still not completely understood. IBS is thought to be caused by many factors including:1-3

  • Family history of IBS
  • Food intolerances
  • Hypersensitivity in the lining of the gut
  • Changes in the gut – inflammation, bacterial overgrowth, or an infection
  • Stressful early life events
  • Mental health factors, such as anxiety and depression

Stress falls under mental health and may work with other factors to cause IBS. However, a person does not develop IBS because they are stressed out.2

Myth 3: There is no treatment for IBS.

This is untrue. While there is currently no cure for IBS, there are several different treatment options. The goal of IBS treatment is to improve symptoms and quality of life. Treatment depends on your dominant symptoms and how severe they are. There are several approaches to managing IBS, such as:3,5-7

  • Changes to diet
  • Exercise
  • Stress management
  • Prebiotics and probiotics
  • Fiber supplements and laxatives
  • Drug therapy
  • Counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Alternative or complementary medicine

A new treatment option that is gaining interest is fecal microbiota transplantation. This procedure involves implanting a stool sample from a healthy donor into the intestine of someone with IBS. Early data show that it may have beneficial effects on IBS.7

Myth 4: IBS can lead to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or colon cancer.

IBS does not mean you will develop IBD or colon cancer. IBS does not cause any visible signs of damage or disease to the digestive tract. There are similarities between IBS and IBD, but they are 2 very distinct conditions. Your doctor will likely use diagnostic tests to rule out IBD, colon cancer, and other gastrointestinal disorders.1,5,8

Myth 5: IBS is all in your head.

IBS is not all in your head. IBS can be diagnosed through symptom-based guidelines by your doctor. The symptoms are real and treatment options are out there that can help.1-7

Myth 6: Only women get IBS.

Both men and women can develop IBS. It is more common in women, with women being 2 times more likely to develop IBS than men.1-3

Myth 7: Finding the right diet will cure IBS.

There is no cure for IBS. But for some people, certain diets may help with symptoms. One of them is the low-FODMAP diet, which restricts certain food groups that can help with gas, bloating, and other uncomfortable IBS symptoms.3,5,6,9

Research shows there may be some benefits to adding fiber to your diet. In fact, fiber supplements are a common first-line treatment for people who have IBS with constipation (IBS-C). Finding the right diet will not cure your IBS, but it may help manage symptoms.4-7,9

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