Symptoms of IBS


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterised by a variety of symptoms from abdominal pain and bloating to anxiety. The symptoms differ depending on the type of IBS you have. Here we summarise the most common symptoms of IBS. 

The different types of IBS

IBS patients are a diverse group, where symptoms vary from person to person. The problem is that the patients are still usually lumped together into the same group. Few people know that IBS even consists of different subgroups (IBS-C, IBS-D, IBS-M, and IBS-U), which you should be aware of as advice differs depending on the type of IBS you have. The different types of IBS are:

IBS-C is IBS with constipation, where at least one in four stools are hard (Bristol 1-2) and fewer than one in four are loose (Bristol 6-7).

IBS-D is IBS with diarrhea, where at least one in four stools are loose (Bristol 6-7) and fewer than one in four are hard (Bristol 1-2).

IBS-M is variable IBS, with at least one in four hard stools (Bristol 1-2) and at the same time at least one in four loose stools. (Bristol 6-7). Sometimes also called IBS-A (alternating).

IBS-U is a so-called undifferentiated unsubtyped-IBS. Here, the stool pattern is too deviant to fit into any of the other groups above.

IBS-PI is a form of IBS that you can get after an infection or surgery – this will eventually show symptoms of one of the other types.

Symptoms of IBS

1. Stomach pain

The most common symptom is pain or discomfort in the abdomen – stomach ache, and stomach cramps that usually go away after visiting the toilet.

2. Diarrhea, constipation, or both

Complaints are often linked to disturbed toilet routines with diarrhea or constipation depending on the type of IBS you have. In some cases, however, symptoms alternate between diarrhea and constipation. This can be a big complication, especially in places without toilets available.

3. Bloating and gas

Other symptoms that occur with IBS are discomfort from gases and a feeling that the stomach is bloated. Many people say that their stomach feels like a balloon. It can be caused by an imbalance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut. Bacteria ferment foods and their product is often gas. If you have a lot of bad bacteria, gas may accumulate in your intestines eventually leading to bloating.

4. Other symptoms

Some people experience heart palpitations or heartburn, frequent vomiting, or mental stress related to anxiety and depression.

How is IBS diagnosed?

The patient’s complaints must meet several symptom criteria in order to be diagnosed with IBS. Rome IV criteria are currently the most common form of diagnosis.

For the doctor to diagnose IBS, your symptoms must have started at least six months ago. You must have had recurrent episodes of abdominal pain at least once a week for the past three months. The pain must be associated with two of the following:

  • Affected by bowel movement.
  • Associated with altered stool frequency.
  • Associated with altered stool consistency.

For a proper diagnosis, make sure to contact your healthcare provider. Keep in mind that treatment differs from one person to another and what works for some may not work for you. Together with a dietician, it may take some time to find the right treatment for you.