IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is a very common disorder. But what are the causes, symptoms and possible treatments?

Professor Silvio Danese , Gastroenterologist and Head of the Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases at Humanitas, was interviewed during the television program Elisir on Rai 3 and we summarized the key points for you.



Professor, what are the causes of IBS?

“We do not know what substances irritate the colon, but there are several theories. We know for sure that this is an extremely common disease and which has a chronic effect on patients.”

The main causes of irritable bowel syndrome are:

  • Alteration of motility (the contractions in your gastrointestinal track that mix and propel its contents)
  • Alteration of the microbiota (ie the intestinal fauna)
  • Certain infections
  • Some medications, which can create an alteration of the permeability and thus promote the onset of symptoms.


Is stress among the causes of irritable bowel syndrome?

“Certainly. Some patients are administered drugs that reassure/relax the brain and also soothe the intestine.”


Why do we use the phrase “gut instinct”?

Your gut is strongly linked with your brain through many nerves hence the definition of “second brain “, that is often given to you belly.


What discoveries have been made regarding IBS?

We found that the microbiota, the intestinal flora, has a profound effect on bowel function.


What is the microbiota and why was it discovered so late?

We known about the presence of microbiota in our intestines for a long time, and over the years we are learning more about it and characterize it better now.

It is also called “the sixth sense”, because it is another organ of our body.

The cells present in the microbiota are a lot more than those that make up the entire human body: a gigantic number, billions and billions of microorganisms.


So, in irritable bowel syndrome, is the microbiota being affected?

“Things can happen that change the quality, composition and quantity of the microbiota. This in turn can cause irritation or alteration of the function of our intestines.”

“I want to clarify that it also changes depending on what we eat”.


Are the symptoms variable from patient to patient?

The symptoms are almost always the same, namely:

  • abdominal pain
  • swelling
  • bloating
  • bowel irregularity


Can other disorders be experienced that are not closely related to IBS?

Yes, there may also be some extra-intestinal symptoms, such as muscle aches, headache, irritability, impaired ability to concentrate, and general discmofort.

A interesting fact: it is estimated that IBS is the second most frequent cause of absence from work.


How do you diagnose irritable bowel syndrome?

In reality it is diagnosed by exclusion. The patient’s medical history and physical examination may already be sufficient to diagnose IBS.


Is there a cure?

Unfortunately, irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic disease that stays with you. You can treat and control the symptoms, but we do not know yet of a cure. We must seek an appropriate therapy depending on the type of IBS.

In addition to specific medications, the best remedy is a healthy diet: avoid excesses, limit the use of spices, vary the food, avoid alcohol and smoking.

Also, some foods contain sugar, called FODMAP , that our intestine finds hard to digest; eliminating or reducing the amount will improve the symptoms.