Irritable Bowel Syndrome Home > Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms

Chronic abdominal (stomach) pain and altered bowel habits are the two classic categories of symptoms that indicate a digestive problem may be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The specific signs and symptoms of IBS may include a crampy feeling, constipation that lasts for days or months, and diarrhea. Other possible indicators of this condition may include nausea, bloating, and heartburn.

Signs and Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: An Overview

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition characterized by chronic abdominal (stomach) pain or discomfort and changes in bowel habits. The specific symptoms and their severity will vary from person to person.

Common Symptoms of IBS

The following sections explain in detail the common symptoms that can occur with IBS, including:
  • Chronic abdominal (stomach) pain
  • Altered bowel habits.
Chronic Abdominal (Stomach) Pain
Abdominal (stomach) pain in people with IBS is often described as a crampy feeling that varies in intensity, from slightly annoying to unbearable.
There is not necessarily a specific place that the pain is located, although the left, lower part of the abdomen seems to be the most common area.
Some situations (such as defecation) can help relieve the pain. Other situations (such as eating, emotional stress, or the beginning of a woman's menstrual period) can make it worse.
Altered Bowel Habits
A change in bowel habits is the second classic symptom of IBS. Specifically, a person with IBS can have:
  • Constipation, or hard, difficult-to-pass, or infrequent bowel movements. With IBS, constipation can last for days or months, with normal bowel habits or diarrhea in between.
  • Diarrhea -- frequent, loose stools, often with an urgent need to move the bowels. The volume tends to be small, with bowel movements most often occurring in the morning or right after meals.
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhea.
  • Normal bowel habits alternating with diarrhea and/or constipation.
About half of the people with diarrhea have mucus in their stool. With both diarrhea and constipation, a person might feel like they did not completely empty their bowels.
A person with IBS may have more frequent stools and/or looser stools when the pain first begins.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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