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What Are the Most Common Symptoms of an Irritable Bowel?

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an uncomfortable gastrointestinal disorder that can affect your large intestine, also known as your colon. It can cause a plethora of uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing symptoms, from bloating and gas to constipation and diarrhea.

Learn how to recognize the most common symptoms of IBS.

Pain in your abdomen

One of the most common symptoms of IBS is abdominal discomfort or pain. You may experience stomach cramping after eating a meal. It may get better after you have a bowel movement.

This pain or discomfort may be caused by extra-sensitive nerves in your gut, suggest experts from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. If you have IBS, your brain may process pain signals from your bowel differently than normal.

Bloating in your belly

If your stomach often feels bloated, it may be a sign of IBS. Abdominal bloating causes your midsection to feel tight and full. Your stomach may also look visibly swollen.

Gas or flatulence

IBS often causes gas, or flatulence. Certain foods and beverages can make this symptom worse. For example, you might get gassy after you eat:

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

Eating foods that are rich in fiber can also trigger flatulence. On the other hand, fiber can help relieve some symptoms of IBS, including constipation. If your doctor encourages you to eat more fiber, gradually increase your fiber intake. This can help lower your chances of gas and bloating.

Changes to your stool

IBS can cause changes to your bowel habits and stool, including constipation, and diarrhea. It can also cause the appearance of mucus in your stool. You may have either diarrhea or constipation or they may alternate.

Constipation

You may have IBS-related constipation if you:

  • need to strain to pass stool
  • have less than four bowel movements per week 
  • pass stool that’s hard, lumpy, and dry

Constipation can be very uncomfortable. Chronic constipation can lead to complications, such as hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and fecal impaction.

Diarrhea

If you pass loose stool multiple times a day, you may have IBS-related diarrhea if. It can also cause feelings of urgency when you need to have a bowel movement.

Mucus

Mucus in your stool is another potential sign of IBS. Mucus is a clear liquid that protects and coats the tissues in your GI tract. With IBS, you may pass mucus in your bowel movements, along with your stool.

Treatment options

If you experience these symptoms at least three times a month over the course of three months, you may have IBS, advises the NIDDK. You may experience times when your symptoms get better or worse. If they persist or return, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help diagnose the underlying cause of your symptoms.

If you have IBS, your doctor can help you learn to manage it. You may be advised to change your diet or other habits to help control your symptoms. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend medications, fiber supplements, probiotic supplements, counseling, or other treatments.

The takeaway

If you experience persistent bouts of abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, or mucus in your stool, make an appointment with your doctor. These symptoms may be a sign of IBS, a condition that can affect your large intestine. They may also be caused by other conditions, such as a gastrointestinal infection or even colon cancer.

Your doctor can help identify the cause of your symptoms and recommend a treatment plan. If you have IBS, you may be able to control your symptoms with a few lifestyle changes. Your doctor may also recommend medications, dietary supplements, or other treatments.

Read This Next

IBS-D: Diagnosis and Treatment Options
Managing the Symptoms of IBS-D
IBS-C: An Overview
What Causes IBS-C? The Brain-Gut Connection
IBS-M: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
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