Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder affecting about 7%–21% of the population. It’s characterized by abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and a change in bowel activity.
But while IBS includes a range of bowel symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C), a subtype of IBS, focuses on constipated-related discomfort.
Here’s what you need to know about IBS-C, including what constipation pain feels like and how to relieve cramping.
Constipation typically involves having fewer than three bowel movements per week. Despite feeling the urge to use the bathroom, passing stool can be challenging, or you might only pass a small amount.
But constipation isn’t the only symptom of IBS-C. This condition also causes abdominal pain, often in the form of cramps. The pain is primarily due to irregular contractions of the intestinal muscles.
IBS-C pain can feel like pressure or tightness in your abdomen, accompanied by a deep, dull ache. The pain’s intensity can vary from mild to severe.
When stools become hard, they can stretch the intestinal walls, leading to discomfort. This may trigger intermittent cramps or sharp pains.
The pain can occur anywhere in your abdomen but is often noticeable in the lower region. Some might describe it as a throbbing or gnawing sensation.
At times, constipation pain extends to the lower back, making it challenging to find a comfortable position. Additionally, constipation can lead to distension — when the abdomen enlarges or feels swollen.
As stools take longer to pass, gas can accumulate in the digestive tract. This mix of trapped gas and stool can stretch the intestines, resulting in sensations of fullness, tightness, and bloating in the abdomen.
When constipation hurts, there are several things you can do to find relief and comfort. For example, you can:
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day: Staying hydrated can soften your stools and make them easier to pass.
- Eat more fiber-rich foods: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can add bulk to your stool and promote regular bowel movements.
- Engage in physical activity: Activities, such as walking or jogging, can help stimulate bowel function and reduce constipation.
- Limit your intake of certain foods: Processed foods and fatty and sugary items can worsen constipation.
- Don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement: Ignoring the urge can make the stool harder and more difficult to pass.
- Use a stool softener or laxative: Over-the-counter stool softeners can help soften the stool, making them easier to pass without straining. Similarly, laxatives can provide temporary relief. But only use laxatives as a short-term solution.
- Use a warm heating pad: Placing a warm heating pad on your abdomen can help soothe discomfort and relax your muscles.
- Massage your stomach: Rubbing your stomach in a circular motion can help relieve constipation pain.
- Take time to relax: Stress can worsen constipation, so practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.
Constipation-related pain, along with gas and bloating, can occur if you have IBS-C. It’s generally felt in the lower abdomen and can range from mild to intense cramping as the intestinal muscles contract.
Bloating caused by IBS-C can cause pain, too. When the intestines swell due to gas, your abdomen can feel full and uncomfortable.
Straining to pass hard stools during bowel movements can further add to the pain, as constipation can trigger anal and rectal pain.
Straining during bowel movements can cause small tears in the lining of the anus, known as fissures. Signs of anal fissures include pain, bleeding, and discomfort during bowel movements.
Constipation can also trigger or worsen hemorrhoids. These are swollen blood vessels in the anus that cause itching and pain. Straining increases pressure in these blood vessels, causing them to weaken and enlarge.
Constipation cramps typically cause discomfort in the lower abdomen, around the area of the large intestine and colon.
These cramps can vary in intensity and may come and go in waves.
The pain can radiate to the sides or lower back in some cases. The location and severity of constipation cramps can differ from person to person, but they generally focus on the abdominal region due to the accumulation of stool in the digestive tract.
Living with IBS-C can be uncomfortable due to abdominal pain, bloating, and the general feeling of being unable to have a bowel movement.
But a healthy diet, lifestyle changes, and home remedies can help ease constipation and reduce related pain.
Speak with your doctor if your constipation worsens or doesn’t improve with home treatment.