IBS Symptoms
Signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS Warning Signs


IBS Symptoms


Most Common Symptoms of IBS
How Often Do Symptoms Occur?
What Symptoms Are Uncommon?
What Other Conditions Are Associated With IBS?

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Guide To IBS

Most Common Symptoms of IBS

The most common symptom of irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic recurring abdominal pain which originates in the colon. In fact over 50 percent of people with chronic colon pain suffer from IBS. Other signs include a bloated stomach, excess gas, and alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation. If only some of these symptoms occur some doctors prefer to diagnose a condition called functional bowel syndrome, although many doctors use this term interchangeably with IBS.

Symptoms of IBS range from being mildly awkward to very painful and disabling. Although they usually appear in clusters, some may appear sequentially (one after the other, for example, pain followed by diarrhea). Symptoms can also vary in severity and location over time. As IBS is mainly considered a disorder of the lower gastrointestinal tract, symptoms tend to occur below the belly button.

How Often Do Symptoms Occur?

How often IBS occurs varies from person to person. Some people have daily episodes or continuously experience symptoms while others experience symptom-free days, weeks and even months. As patterns can vary, the question was often asked: what is considered an IBS attack and what is considered an occasional bowel complaint resulting form a normal bowel irritant (such as stress or a virus)? In response, frequency guidelines to help diagnose IBS were developed by health experts who met in Rome in 1988. The results are known as the Rome criteria (which have been updated more recently).

The Rome Criteria of Symptoms


For IBS to be reported, abdominal pain, discomfort or cramps which last at least 12 weeks within a period of one year must be present. Those weeks do not have to be consecutive. Pain should be:

1. Relieved by defecation (passing a stool).
2. Associated with a change in frequency of stool movements.
3. Associated with a change in consistency of stool.

Bowel Movement

On at least one in four days of an 'attack', 2 or more of the following should be present:

• Stool frequency altered (occurring more often/diarrhea, or less often/constipation).
• Stool changes in appearance (for example becoming loose and watery, or hard and pellet-like).
• Altered stool passage (for example a feeling of incomplete evacuation after bowel movement, straining or urgency).
• Passage of mucus with or without a stool – the mucus looks like a sausage skin membrane.
• Feeling bloated and the tummy appears distended.

Secondary Signs

In addition, other non-colon related symptoms may occur in people with IBS. These include:

• Need to urinate more frequently.
• Lower back pain.
• Bouts of anxiety. Read about stress and IBS.
• Feeling sad. Recognize the effects of depression.
• Fatigue.
Painful intercourse.
• Heartburn.
• Nausea.
• Feeling full easily, even after eating a small meal.
• Poor appetite linked to wanting to avoid eating trigger foods.
• Headaches.
• Groin pain.

• Dyspepsia
This is a pain or discomfort of the upper abdomen and is often recurring. It can be described as indigestion, gassiness, flatulence, a feeling of being full after eating very little. Many of these symptoms also frequently occur with IBS.

• Proctalgia Fugax
This is a subcategory of IBS. This syndrome is characterized by episodes of severe cramp pains in the rectum and perineal region (the genitals and anal area). Pain can last anything from a few minutes to an hour. The cause is unknown and it is not linked to the development of any disease.

• Incomplete Evacuation
There may also be a feeling of incomplete evacuation (technically called rectal tenesmus). This is where there is a sensation that another bowel movement is necessary but it does not happen. The experience is often painful and is accompanied by involuntary straining. It may be accompanied by bloating, gas and passage of mucus. Rectal tenesmus is also associated with other bowel disorders, including diverticular disease, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and pelvic floor dysfunction. When diagnosing IBS a doctor will have to rule these other conditions out. Vesical tenesmus is the incomplete evacuation of urine, leading to a feeling that the bladder has not been fully emptied.

Note: If you think you may have symptoms, before obtaining an IBS diagnosis, it is worth keeping an IBS food diary for a few weeks, so that you can provide your doctor with accurate information to help with his diagnosis. If you are looking for some tasty food options, check out our IBS recipes.

What Symptoms Are Uncommon?

As the symptoms of IBS can be so varied, many patients worry that their doctor has misdiagnosed them and missed a more serious disease. The following are a list of symptoms which are not common to IBS and do require further investigation:

• Blood in the stool.
• Fever.
• Vomiting.
• Anemia which is usually diagnosed by a blood test.
• Unexplained and sudden weight gain/loss.
• Cramping and abdomen pain which is not relieved by a bowel movement or wakes a person while sleeping

What Other Conditions Are Associated With IBS?

People with the following conditions tend to be more prone to IBS:

Fibromyalgia and other musculoskeletal symptoms.
• Those who suffer sleep disturbances.
• People who have chronic fatigue.
• Those who suffer headaches.
• Genitourinary injuries (injuries to the bladder, kidneys, genitals, ureters or urethra).
• Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, both forms of Irritable Bowel Disease (a different condition) can co-exist with IBS.
• Painful bladder syndrome/interstitial cystitis.

Psychosocial Influences

IBS Causes:Studies show that people's response to pain is more influenced by psychosocial factors than physiologic factors. Psychosocial factors refer to a person's way of psychologically dealing with social interaction (e.g. how they cope, do they tend to get depressed easily etc). Physiologic factors refer to physical issues such as rectal or colon sensitivity. Research shows that patients who were more influenced by psychosocial factors (such those with a history of depression or physical abuse) were also more likely to experience IBS symptoms more frequently and severely.

  Related Articles on IBS Symptoms

For more information on digestive issues, see the following:

IBS Natural Treatment
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
IBS Diet Plan

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