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IBS Symptoms


Updated May 16, 2014

Young woman sitting on a toilet seat and holding her stomach
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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms run the gamut of unpleasant intestinal symptoms -- diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, gas, bloating. Yes, these are all symptoms that most people experience at one time or another. It is when they happen to a person on a continual basis that there becomes the possibility that a person has IBS.

IBS Symptoms

Doctors make a diagnosis of IBS based on a combination of abdominal pain and a marked change in your bowel habits. Thus, for the individual sufferer, IBS can consist of:

  • abdominal pain or discomfort relieved by a bowel movement
  • three or more bowel movements a day (diarrhea)
  • three or fewer bowel movements a week (constipation)
  • loose, watery stools (diarrhea)
  • hard, dry stools (constipation)
  • feeling of urgency (diarrhea)
  • straining during a bowel movement (constipation)
  • feeling of incomplete evacuation
  • passage of mucus
  • gas and bloating

Sub-types of IBS

IBS does not present the same way in all people. Doctors and researchers recognize this variability and thus classify IBS according the primary symptom that patients experience:

Notice the word "predominant." This term is used to acknowledge the fact that an IBS-C patient might occasionally experience diarrhea and that an IBS-D patient might occasionally experience constipation. It is also common for IBS sufferers to experience a change in their predominant symptom and therefore switch from one sub-type to another.

Red-flag Digestive Symptoms

IBS symptoms can be so severe and disruptive that sufferers frequently worry about misdiagnosis and that their doctor has overlooked a more serious disorder. The following list describes symptoms that are NOT typical of IBS and would warrant further investigation:

  • fever
  • vomiting
  • blood in the stool (may be only from hemorrhoids, but MUST be brought to the attention of a qualified physician)
  • significant and unexplained weight loss
  • anemia
  • abdominal pain and cramping not relieved by a bowel movement
  • abdominal pain and cramping which awakes the sufferer from sleep
  • poor appetite (not caused by a fear of eating trigger foods)
  • fatigue

If you are suffering from ongoing digestive symptoms, it is essential that you speak with your doctor to obtain an accurate diagnosis. The following articles will be of help to you:

Essential Reading from Dr. Bolen, Your IBS Guide:


Longstreth, G., Thompson, W., Chey, W., Houghton, L., Mearin, F. & Spiller, R. “ Functional Bowel Disorders. Gastroenterology 2006 130:1480-1491.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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