Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - Symptoms 

Symptoms of IBS 

Abdominal pain and cramping is a common symptom of IBS 

The symptoms of IBS are usually worse after eating and tend to come and go in bouts.

Most people have a flare-up of symptoms that lasts two to four days. After this time, the symptoms usually improve but do not disappear completely.

The most common symptoms of IBS are:

  • abdominal pain and cramping - often relieved by emptying your bowels
  • a change in your bowel habits - such as diarrhoeaconstipation, or sometimes both
  • bloating and swelling of your abdomen
  • excessive wind (flatulence)
  • an urgent need to go to the toilet
  • a feeling that you need to open your bowels even if you have just been to the toilet
  • a feeling you have not fully emptied your bowels
  • passing mucus from your bottom 

Due to the embarrassment, pain and discomfort of IBS, many people with the condition also have feelings of depression and anxiety.

Bowel symptoms

There are three main patterns of bowel symptoms in IBS. They are:

  • IBS with diarrhoea - when you have repeated bouts of diarrhoea
  • IBS with constipation - when you have repeated bouts of constipation
  • IBS mixed - when you have repeated bouts of diarrhoea and constipation

These patterns are not set in stone. You can switch from one to another and go for long periods with few or no symptoms at all.

Find out about the foods and drinks that can trigger the symptoms of IBS.

'Red flag' symptoms

Certain symptoms indicate you may have another serious condition and that you need further tests. These symptoms include:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • a swelling or lump in your abdomen or bottom
  • bleeding from your bottom  
  • anaemia (a lack of red blood cells) 

Page last reviewed: 12/09/2012

Next review due: 12/09/2014

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Comments

The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Theva CA said on 21 October 2014

I thought I am suffering from gastric before I go for medical examinations. Now I found to know that I have IBS. I am suffering from this terrible disease for more than 5 years. I hate travelling long because it makes the disease worse. Severe abdominal pain, bloating, irregular bowel habit - sometimes constipation and diarrhea. I fully accept the connection between stress and IBS. These medicines give temporary relieve. Is there any medicine for permanent relieve....?

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romsey said on 08 July 2014

I have suffered with IBS and depression for many years and there is definitely a link between the two. When depression comes on my IBS symptoms are much more active. It took was a few years before I fully appreciated the connection between the two! That said it still doesn't make it any easier to deal with. I tend to suffer mainly with constipation rather than diarrhea, but unusually I am currently going through a patch where both symptoms are flaring up and it is extremely debilitating. I know my concerns and fears with IBS are increased with my depressive nature as there have been many occasions when anxiety has lead me to believe I am suffering with all sorts of nasties!

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KH19 said on 19 June 2014

I've suffered with IBS since I started university when I was 19 and it still flares up now 3 years later. Its worse when I'm stressed about exams, or travelling so I'm fairly certain stress is the trigger for me. That and too much dairy products like cheese or milk makes it worse too. It's managable but its a pain because you have to be so careful about what you eat!

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rosejerry248 said on 19 May 2014

I have suffered from IBS for a little time of around 6 months and unfortunately only 17 and has left me with high anxiety. I wanted to say IBS can effect teens and can be very scary!
My symptoms started by a high increase in wind when I never really did before but I figured it would pass (I wish) I then started the get serve cramping where I would physically feel I was dying and be crying in pain. I also experience on and off constipation and diarrhea, the feeling of my bowl constantly doing something and that it is never 'empty' and now rarely feel well or normal.
I am now very anxious to stay away from home or leave the house in case cramps start or bowl troubles especially in places such as exams, dinners, and away without my parents.
I was wondering if anyone has any tips of dealing with the anxiety and worry of IBS and how they discovered their triggers; my onsets don't seem to be linked with stress, food or other sources.

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Ladywriter1968 said on 16 May 2014

I think I am getting this, today I went a lot straight after eating a salad and had tummy cramps and even though completely been, I still feel like full. This also happened couple of weeks ago at 3am. I was in pain and on toilet for a while. and a few days before that, but even though if I have examination, I know from a friend who has this, there is no cure.

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JCFMS said on 20 February 2014

I've suffered with IBS for quite a long time. It was diagnosed during examination when I went to the doctors about it. I take Mebeverine when needed, and I also take Pepto Bismol which can sometimes help. I get symptoms of feeling like the bowel is not fully emptied after going to the toilet, constipation, bloating, wind, urgent need to pass stools, and sometimes, diarrhoea. I tend to get flare-ups when stressed, when it's hot, or sometimes, for no apparent reason.

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Papa Dave said on 19 February 2014

I have lived with IBS for nearly 4 yrs, My NHS GP was brilliant, when I started experiencing diarrhoea my GP quickly got me 3 hospital appointments in 3 weeks, and this was around the Christmas time, because there was a history of cancer in the family. After 3 internal camera's inside my body ( I am now 65 yrs ) I got the all clear from 2 different hospitals, and it was said that I suffer from IBS, with her help I quickly realised that living with IBS was a self help thing, so I changed my diet, I started eating Kelloggs Special K mixed with equal amounts of Kelloggs Just Right with Alpro Soya, and this made my stomach feel good, I started taking an Actimel every day, I also eat brown wholemeal bread sandwiches. I stopped eating baked beans, sweetcorn and peas and I cut down on cows milk very important, and in the main I am diarrhoea free, but my IBS does flare-up now and then, but you have to live with it. I has to stop eating curry's and chilli con carne. This started in December 2010. I cannot thank the NHS Hospitals Central Middlesex, Park Royal, and the Northwick Park Hospital. From Mr David Travers, aged nearly 66, still working a 38 hr week and paying full taxes.

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