Abdominal pain is the key symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and is associated with a change in bowel habits. This change in bowel habits may be diarrhea and/or constipation.

Individuals with IBS may either have mostly diarrhea, mostly constipation, or both diarrhea and constipation (mixed pattern). The pain is often relieved by having a bowel movement and can at times be worsened after eating.

Symptoms can change over time. There can be periods when symptoms flare up as well as periods of remission when they diminish or disappear.

In addition, the main bowel habit can vary over time. For example, some people that suffer mainly from constipation (or diarrhea) may later experience a change to constipation alternating with diarrhea.

Other common symptoms of IBS include:

  • bloating (a sensation of fullness in the belly),
  • urgency (the need to use a restroom in a hurry),
  • mucus (white or yellow liquid) in the stool, and the sensation of incompletely passing stools.
  • The typical features of IBS are generally recognizable by a physician.

Usually the physician will examine the abdomen of a patient with IBS and it will be normal or have tenderness. A rectal examination is also done to evaluate the functioning of the rectal floor muscles, particularly if there is incontinence or severe constipation with straining.

The most important first step is to confidently recognize the diagnosis of IBS and remove the suspicion of other diseases.

Adapted from IFFGD Publication #101 revised and updated by Douglas A. Drossman, MD, Drossman Gastroenterology PLLC, Chapel Hill, NC.

 

Resources

books

We provide a wide range of topics and tools dedicated to providing information about chronic disorders of the digestive tract and how improve living with these conditions.

Publication Library

How Your Digestive System Works

Words to Know