Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - Symptoms 

Symptoms 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.

Page last reviewed: 12/09/2012

Next review due: 12/09/2014


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

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, I must repeat again that living with IBS is a self help thing, and do not keep on bothering your very busy and overworked GP. From Mr David Travers, aged nearly 66, still working a 38 hr week and paying full taxes.

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'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) 

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