Frequently Asked Questions

What is a functional bowel disorder?

A functional bowel disorder is a condition in which a patient experiences chronic abdominal discomfort, though the underlying cause of that discomfort is not due to an anatomical defect, metabolic abnormality, or infectious agent.

Because the symptoms vary from patient to patient, it is often difficult to diagnose a functional bowel disorder. Two of the most common functional bowel disorders are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and chronic constipation.

What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by a combination of chronic or recurring symptoms of abdominal pain or discomfort that is accompanied by an alternation in bowel function. Associated symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and distension.

IBS is considered a common disorder with a prevalence of nine to 22 percent of the U.S. population. It is seen more frequently in women than in men, and is often accompanied by emotional distress, impaired quality of life, and disability.

In partnership with referring physicians, our gastroenterologists tailor individualized care for patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Intermittent and/or recurrent symptoms, occurring independently or in combination over many months or years, make IBS especially frustrating to diagnose and treat.

BIDMC's digestive disease specialists work with referring colleagues to manage this functional disorder with medication, diet and lifestyle changes, often with exceptional outcome.

What is chronic constipation?

Chronic constipation is a condition that may exhibit a wide range of symptoms, including passing stools infrequently, straining to pass stools, hard or lumpy stools, or incomplete evacuation of stools.

As chronic constipation has many symptoms, it may also have many causes: diabetes, medication usage, low fiber diet, dehydration, depression, and diverticular disease are just a few of the contributing factors to patient with chronic constipation.

Often, chronic constipation may be managed through dietary changes alone; otherwise, treatment plans may include biofeedback, medications, and other interventions.