The key symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is abdominal pain. The IBS pain can be felt anywhere in the abdomen. It may change over time.

The abdomen is the area between the hips and the chest. It is not actually stomach pain.

People differently describe how pain feels in IBS, such as...

  • Cramping or cramp-like
  • Stabbing
  • Sharp
  • A ‘migraine’ in the stomach

IBS pain or discomfort is related to the way the bowels move.

  • There may be less pain after having a bowel movement
  • The pain may begin when the frequency of bowel movements change to more often or less often
  • Or the pain may begin when stools change and become harder or softer

A study1,2 by IFFGD, in collaboration with the UNC Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders, of 1,966 people diagnosed with IBS found pain to be the key factor that contributed to the severity of IBS. Eight out of ten (80%) persons in the survey listed pain as the factor that makes their IBS severe.

Other severity factors frequently listed by the study respondents included:

  • Bowel difficulties 74%
  • Bloating 69%
  • Limits on eating/diet 69%

For many people with IBS, abdominal pain is frequent. For some it is continuous. People contacting IFFGD about severe pain have described it using words like: excruciating, unbearable, constant, intense, or awful.

Living with IBS – Personal Stories

I am a 38 year old woman, working in the big corporate world. I have been suffering (I use this term mildly) for over two years with social anxiety and now IBS. I am seriously considering quitting my job as the sudden spasms accompanied by severe pain are starting to impinge on my performance in the workplace. I cancel client lunches, avoid promotions, and travel as little as possible. But how much longer will the Execs put up with this?

I give many thanks to the Gastro specialist who spent over an hour with me in his office today, educating me on my condition that now has a name. It is specialists like him that give people like me hope.

– From our Personal Stories Read more stories from others who are living with IBS »

Learn About Treating Pain in IBS

References

  1. IBS Patients: Their Illness Experience and Unmet Needs. IFFGD 2009.
  2. Drossman DA, Morris CB, Schneck S, Hu YJ, et al. International survey of patients with IBS: symptom features and their severity, health status, treatments, and risk taking to achieve clinical benefit. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2009.
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