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Is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) life threatening?

Although the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can be disabling for some people, the condition itself does not cause any permanent damage to the intestines. For most people, the symptoms can be controlled with lifestyle changes, dietary changes, and medication. Your doctor can help you find the right treatment plan for you.

Dr. William T. Dierenfeldt, MD
Gastroenterologist

Even though IBS is a nuisance, and can interfere with your daily activities, it is not life threatening.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that involves chronic and/or recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort and altered bowel habits. While it is associated with missed work days, constipation, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, migraines, and possibly sleep problems, it is not considered to be life threatening.

Irritable bowel syndrome should be considered a serious condition, and unfortunately many providers minimize it. Although people do not become terminally ill from IBS, it still significantly interferes with daily life when one considers missed work / school or just not feeling well. Up to 15% of the population may be affected by IBS, and symptoms can become quite distracting and embarrassing. One study suggests we may spend as much as $30 billion for direct and indirect costs associated with IBS.  Unfortunately, IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion (meaning, physicians must rule out other causes first), is a chronic condition, and can be very challenging to treat. Educating yourself about IBS—understanding what it is as well as what it isn’t—is often the first step in effective treatment. Modifying your diet and avoiding trigger foods is also important. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.