Frequent bloating, cramps and unpredictable bowel movements force millions of Americans suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to stay close to a restroom at all times.


Often called “spastic colon,” IBS is a common intestinal disorder that causes abdominal cramps, diarrhea, gas, bloating and constipation. Although help is available, embarrassment causes many people with IBS to suffer in silence rather than seek treatment.



The Root of the Problem


“The condition occurs when the delicate interplay among the nerves, hormones and electrical activity that link the bowel and the brain is disrupted,” said Dr. Yassir Ashraf, a gastroenterologist at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital.


If you never thought about the connection between the brain and the stomach before, just imagine the butterflies you feel before making a speech or the bellyache that might come on during a heated argument.


“In IBS, pain sensors in the colon are more sensitive than normal, causing them to respond strongly to stimuli that don’t affect most people,” Ashraf said. In short, a breakfast of scrambled eggs and milk can spell disaster for those with the disorder.


Ashraf suggests taking these steps if IBS symptoms are beginning to disrupt your life:


• See your physician as soon as symptoms appear. Your physician will know what treatment course is best for you. And since the signs of IBS may mimic those of a serious disease, it’s important to rule out any underlying disorder.

• Write down the foods that seem to bring on symptoms and discuss your findings with your doctor. Once you identify the foods that trigger symptoms, scale back your intake. Common culprits are dairy products, caffeine, beans, cabbage, fat and alcohol. Remember that many of the nutrients you need may be in the foods you are avoiding, so be sure to make healthy substitutions.

• Limit spicy foods.

• Since large meals often cause cramping and diarrhea, try eating a few small meals throughout the day instead of three large courses.

• Control tension levels. Because of the brain-bowel connection, high stress levels can trigger IBS symptoms. To unwind, go for a daily walk, talk with a friend, dust off an old hobby or listen to music.


Although antidiarrheals and laxatives may ease symptoms, they are not a long-term solution. Instead, your doctor may prescribe antispasmodics for relief. In severe cases, antidepressant medication may help soothe distress.


Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital is taking every necessary precaution during the coronavirus pandemic to keep you and our staff members safe. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are:

  • Screening all patients, ensuring only those without COVID-19 symptoms are seen in the office
  • Wearing masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) while providing patient care
  • Reorganizing waiting rooms and check-in lines to ensure social distancing
  • Implementing additional sanitation processes to disinfect all equipment and surfaces


For more information on the full range of gastrointestinal services available and to schedule an appointment with a gastroenterology specialist with Houston Methodist Gastroenterology Associates, visit or call 281.422.7970.