What are the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome?
The symptoms if irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) vary from person to person but include:
- Pain and discomfort may occur in different parts of the tummy (abdomen). Pain usually comes and goes. The length and severity of each bout of pain can vary greatly. The pain often eases when you pass stools (faeces) or wind. Many people with IBS describe the pain as a spasm or colic.
- Bloating and swelling of your tummy may develop from time to time. You may pass more wind than usual.
- Changes in stools:
- Some people have bouts of diarrhoea, some have bouts of constipation and some get a combination of both.
- The stools may become small and pellet-like. Sometimes the stools become watery or more loose. At times, mucus may be mixed with the stools.
- There may be a feeling of not emptying the back passage (rectum) after going to the toilet.
- Some people have urgency, which means they have to get to the toilet quickly. You may feel an urgent need to go to the toilet several times shortly after getting up.
- Other symptoms which sometimes occur - these include:
Some people have occasional mild symptoms. Others have unpleasant symptoms for long periods. Many people fall somewhere in between, with flare-ups of symptoms from time to time. Some doctors group people with IBS into one of three categories:
- Those with abdominal pain or discomfort, and the other symptoms are mainly bloating and constipation.
- Those with abdominal pain or discomfort, and the other symptoms are mainly urgency to get to the toilet, and diarrhoea.
- Those who alternate between constipation and diarrhoea.
However, in practice, many people will not fall neatly into any one category, and considerable overlap occurs.
Note: remember that passing blood is not a symptom of IBS. You should tell a doctor if you pass blood.
Did you find this information useful?
- Irritable bowel syndrome in adults: diagnosis and management of irritable bowel syndrome in primary care; NICE Clinical Guideline (February 2008, updated April 2017)
- Irritable bowel syndrome; NICE CKS, February 2013 (UK access only)
- Ruepert L, Quartero AO, de Wit NJ, et al; Bulking agents, antispasmodics and antidepressants for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Aug 10 (8):CD003460.
- Bohn L, Storsrud S, Liljebo T, et al; Diet low in FODMAPs reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome as well as traditional dietary advice: a randomized controlled trial. Gastroenterology. 2015 Nov 149(6):1399-1407.e2. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2015.07.054. Epub 2015 Aug 5.
- Didari T, Mozaffari S, Nikfar S, et al; Effectiveness of probiotics in irritable bowel syndrome: Updated systematic review with meta-analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Mar 14 21(10):3072-84. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v21.i10.3072.