Most Common Symptoms of IBS

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on February 5, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on February 5, 2013

Do you have an irritable bowel or just an upset stomach? Identify the cause of symptoms like pain in your abs, bloating, and constipation, among others.

Preventing GI Problems

Some conditions you just don’t want to talk about; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is among them. IBS is an uncomfortable gastrointestinal (GI) disorder of the large intestine—also called the colon—that causes a plethora of uncomfortable and embarrassing signs and symptoms, from bloating and gas to constipation and diarrhea. Fortunately, these can be managed, and few people with the condition have symptoms that are severe or disabling.

Read through this article to see what symptoms may indicate a bout of IBS.

Pain in the Abs

One of the most common symptoms of IBS is abdominal discomfort or pain, often in the form of stomach cramping. The discomfort often arises after eating a meal.

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), you most likely have IBS when this type of discomfort occurs at least three times a month for three consecutive months (unless another condition or injury is responsible for the pain) (NDDIC, 2012).

Belly Bloating

IBS sufferers often have a bloated feeling in their stomachs. Abdominal bloating causes your midsection to feel tight and full, and your stomach may look swollen. Researchers are uncertain about exactly what causes the bloating and discomfort from IBS. However, the NDDIC reports that problems with the signals between the nerves of the intestines and the brain may be responsible (NDDIC, 2012).

Bowel Problems

Changes in bowel habits are another main symptom of IBS. According to the NDDIC, you must experience two of these three symptoms to be classified as IBS:

  • discomfort begins with inconsistency in your bowel movements, meaning they occur either more or less often than usual
  • pain starts with stool that looks looser or lumpier than usual
  • pain or discomfort improves after a bowel movement (NDDIC, 2012)

Embarrassing Symptoms

One of the most undesirable symptoms brought on by IBS is gas, or flatulence. Certain foods and beverages can worsen this symptom, including:

  • beans
  • cabbage
  • high-fat foods, such as butter, animal fats, and cheese
  • any type of milk product
  • drinks that contain caffeine, alcohol, or artificial sweeteners

Eating foods with fiber can trigger gas, yet fiber can actually help with other IBS symptoms like constipation. Increasing your fiber intake gradually—from two to three grams daily—can help decrease the chance of gas and bloating.

Constipation and Diarrhea

There are few symptoms more unpleasant than constipation or diarrhea—yet both are likely symptoms of IBS. IBS-related constipation leads to:

  • hard, dry stools
  • straining to go to the bathroom
  • less than four bowel movements per week 

IBS-related diarrhea results in loose stool at least three times a day, as well as a feeling of urgency to have a bowel movement.

Passing Mucus

Another common IBS symptom is having mucus in your stool. Mucus is a clear liquid that protects and coats the tissues in your GI tract. You pass this mucus along with stool when you have IBS.

You may experience times when symptoms like passing mucus worsen, and times when they improve or even go away completely. See your doctor if your symptoms persist to rule out a more serious condition, such as colon cancer or an infection.

Treatment Options

Though the symptoms of IBS can bring discomfort and embarrassment, according to the Mayo Clinic, the condition won’t permanently damage your intestine. Learning to control your condition through diet and lifestyle changes can provide control and relief (Mayo Clinic, 2011). In some cases, your doctor also may recommend medications, probiotics (gut health-promoting microorganisms), or other therapies to treat IBS symptoms effectively.

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