IBS Month



Symptoms Cluster in IBS 

A number of symptoms that occur together characterize irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This may confuse you at first. Plus, symptoms will likely change over time. The changes may seem random. But there is a pattern to symptoms of IBS.

►The key sign or symptom of IBS is pain or discomfort in the abdomen. The abdomen is the area below your chest and above your hips. Read more about pain in IBS 

►The other symptoms of IBS relate to your bowel habit. You’ll notice a change in frequency or consistency of stool (diarrhea or constipation). These changes link to the pain.

►The symptoms occur over a long term and come and go over time.

Some or all of IBS symptoms can occur at the same time. Some symptoms may be worse than others.

Abdominal pain is often described as crampy, or as a generalized ache with periods of cramps. Sharp, dull, gas-like, or modest pains are common.

The IBS discomfort or pain usually feels better after a bowel movement.

Symptom Patterns Add Up To IBS

Certain signs and symptoms occur with IBS. Symptom-based criteria for IBS emphasize a positive diagnosis rather than extensive tests to rule out all other diseases. No tests confirm the diagnosis of IBS. Read more about IBS diagnosis

A detailed history, physical examination, and limited diagnostic tests help confirm the IBS diagnosis. More extensive testing is reserved for specific situations.

Other Symptoms May Accompany IBS

Persons treated for IBS commonly report upper gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. About 25% to 50% report…

  • Heartburn
  • Early feeling of fullness (satiety)
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal fullness
  • Bloating

Other GI symptoms also reported include…

  • Intermittent upper abdominal discomfort or pain (dyspepsia)
  • Feelings of urgency (the need to find a restroom fast)
  • Feeling of “incomplete” bowel emptying

Non-GI symptoms also occur. Sometimes, but not always, this may be due to an overlap of IBS with another condition. These symptoms include…

Other symptoms tend to occur with more severe IBS such as…

  • Low back pain
  • Headache

Symptoms sometimes seem contradictory, such as alternating diarrhea and constipation. It may help to keep a Symptom Diary so your doctor can see how your symptoms change over time and in relation to diet, stress, and other factors. Get the Symptom Diary 

Abnormal functioning of the nerves and muscles of the bowel produce the symptoms of IBS. A “dysregulation” between the brain, the gut, and the central nervous system causes the bowel to become “irritated,” or overly sensitive to stimuli. Symptoms may occur even in response to normal events.

Symptoms NOT Characteristic of IBS

Symptoms of…

  • anemia,
  • blood in the stools,
  • unexplained weight loss, or
  • fever

are not characteristic of IBS. You should alert your physician immediately if you are experiencing these symptoms.

Other signs or symptoms that call for special consideration before being attributed to IBS include:

  • Age of 50 or older
  • Nighttime symptoms that awake the individual
  • Change in the symptom quality (e.g., new and different pain)
  • Recent use of antibiotics
  • A family history of other gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.