Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder. Up to 15 percent of Americans have one of the three types of IBS: constipation (IBS-C), diarrhea (IBS-D), or mixed (IBS-M).
Keep reading to learn more about IBS-C, including who it affects and how it differs from IBS-D and IBS-M.
Over 13 million adults in the United States have IBS with constipation as its primary symptom. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a diagnosis of IBS-C requires that stools are hard or lumpy at least 25 percent of the time, with loose or watery stools less than 25 percent of the time.
IBS-C is more common in women than men and in adults younger than 50 years old. About 72 percent of people with IBS-C reported frequent constipation that they described as extremely bothersome.
IBS-C lasts for at least three months or more. The most common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort: Cramping and sharp pain are likely
- Constipation: Infrequent stools (less than three per week) and pellet-like stools that are small, hard, and dry
- Feeling like you still have to go: A sensation like you need to have a bowel movement but cannot go, or like you cannot completely empty your bowels
- Feeling better after defecation: An improvement of symptoms, like stomach cramping, after defecating
- Bloated or swollen stomach: A feeling of fullness, particularly after meals
- Gas: Frequent gas caused by certain foods or dietary changes
- Straining: Straining during a bowel movement, which can lead to internal hemorrhoids
- Mucus: Mucus in the stool
Women with IBS may also have worse symptoms during their menstrual periods.
Although there are similarities in all types of IBS, some symptoms are unique to IBS-C. People with constipation-predominant IBS pass food through their colon at a normal rate. However, the volume of stool tends to be much less than in diarrhea-predominant IBS or in those with healthy digestion.
If you think you have IBS, don’t try to diagnose yourself. Some of the symptoms of IBS may indicate other diseases that a medical professional should rule out. This will ensure the right condition is treated.
Increasing fiber intake is often the first treatment doctors prescribe for IBS-C. Aim to get 20 to 35 daily grams of fiber from sources like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. If you need to take a fiber supplement, the American College of Gastroenterology recommends psyllium over bran. Consuming more fiber will likely provide constipation relief, but it may also increase gas and cramping. Gradually increase your fiber intake to minimize these side effects.
Also, make sure to drink plenty of water to ease food through your intestinal tract. Not drinking enough water is a contributing factor to constipation and dry stools.
If your constipation gets worse or continues for more than three weeks, you may need to see a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist. They can take a complete health history, provide a physical exam, and ask about any relevant family history of either colon cancer or digestive disorders.
IBS-C has additional medication options not available to those with other types of IBS. Laxatives provide temporary relief of constipation. Check with your doctor before taking a laxative to make sure it’s an appropriate option, and begin with the lowest possible dosage. Laxatives are good for short-term relief but should not be used on a regular basis.
Lubiprostone (Amitiza) is a medication approved only for women that treats chronic constipation in IBS. It works by increasing the amount of liquid in your stool, which makes it softer and easier to pass. Follow your doctor’s dosing instructions carefully while taking this medication.
Linaclotide (Linzess) is a fairly new drug also recommended for people with chronic constipation. It also works by increasing the fluid in your stool. It’s not recommended for children under the age of 17.
IBS-C can be uncomfortable. But there are many treatments available, from dietary changes to prescription medications. Knowing more about the symptoms and treatments of IBS-C will help you start taking control of your condition. Talk to your doctor to find out which treatment options are right for you.