Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common disorder characterized by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea. IBS causes a great deal of discomfort and distress, but it does not permanently harm the intestines and does not lead to a more serious disease, such as cancer. Most people can control their symptoms with a combination of diet, stress management, and prescribed medications. For some people, however, IBS can be disabling. They may be unable to work, attend social events, or even travel short distances.
As many as 20 percent of the adult population, or one in five Americans, have symptoms of IBS, making it one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. It occurs more often in women than in men, and it begins before the age of 35 in about 50 percent of people.