7 Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome vary from person to person. It is believed that one in five people experience some of the unpleasant symptoms of IBS at some time. Women are twice as likely to develop the condition as men. IBS rarely produces first-time symptoms in people over forty.

Some of these symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. Diagnosis of IBS is difficult as none of these symptoms are restricted to this syndrome alone.


Diarrhea is by far the most common symptom of IBS. However, it is interesting to note that in almost half of the known cases of IBS it does not cause diarrhea.

If an attack of diarrhea is imminent the need to empty the bowels can be very persistent. When taken unaware of this situation the discomfort and embarrassment can be incredibly traumatic to the sufferer. Fear of these situations often results in people avoiding social situations.

A recent study involving 200 adults found that 12 bowel movements a week was the average for diarrhea-predominate IBS sufferers. This was more than twice the number of movements averaged by adult participants without IBS.


More than 50% of IBS sufferers are constipation-predominate. Constipation is described as having less than three bowel movements per week. A symptom of IBS is the change in bowel movement. This change increases the speed of or slows down the regular transit of stool.

When the process slows, the bowel absorbs more water from the stool. This dries and hardens the stool, making it difficult to pass. Constipation-predominates often describe a sensation of incomplete bowel movement that encourages unnecessary straining.

Mixed or Alternating Diarrhea and Constipation

Mixed or alternating diarrhea and constipation affect approximately 20% of patients. This condition in people with IBS involves chronic recurring abdominal pain. The chronic pain component is the best clue that the condition is indeed IBS related, and not due to diet or other factors. This particular form of IBS is considered more severe than the others. The symptoms are more intense and they tend to occur more frequently.

The sufferers of this mixed IBS also have more varying symptoms from one person to another, which requires the treatment to be more specific to each person’s individual needs.

Pain and Cramping

Pain and cramping is also a symptom that is very common for people with irritable bowel syndrome. Researchers believe that when IBS is present the signals sent by the gut to the brain become distorted. This results in uncoordinated digestive tract muscles becoming tense and painful.

The pain can spread over a wide area of the abdomen. However it can localize in the lower-left area of the abdomen, and tends to decrease following a bowel movement.

Gas and Bloating

Increased production of gas in the gut is the result of altered digestion caused by IBS. This in turn produces the uncomfortable feeling of bloating. Many patients claim that gas and bloating are the most persistent and irritating symptoms of the condition.

Fatigue and Insomnia

Many studies have found that people with IBS often exhibit symptoms similar to insomniacs. They have difficulty getting to sleep and wake up feeling unrested. Over half of patients polled report low stamina and fatigue that affects the quality of their life.

Anxiety and Depression

A large study of 94,000 people found that men and women with IBS were 50% more likely to have an anxiety disorder. Over 70% were more likely to have a mood disorder such as depression than people who do not suffer from IBS.

The question of anxiety and depression is an unclear but vicious circle. Are IBS symptoms a result of mental stress, or does the stress of being an IBS sufferer make people more likely to suffer psychological problems?

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