Irritable Bowel Syndrome Signs and Symptoms

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What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder of the digestive system which occurs in up to 20% of adult Americans. Researchers have not uncovered any specific causes of irritable bowel syndrome, and there may in fact be several causes, such as bacterial infection, food allergies, or even an autoimmune disease.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Signs and Symptoms

People with irritable bowel syndrome don’t always experience the same symptoms. The disease manifests differently from person to person – so even if you don’t experience many of the most common symptoms, you may still have irritable bowel syndrome.

Irritable bowel syndrome signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Abdominal discomfort and/or pain
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Constipation or diarrhea (one or the other, or alternating between the two at various times)
  • Passing mucus-containing stools, particularly when constipated.
  • “Fecal urgency” – frequently feeling an uncontrollable urge to have a bowel movement. This is common in people with IBS who have diarrhea.

The severity and longevity of symptoms is highly individual. Irritable bowel syndrome signs and symptoms may appear suddenly and worsen over time, or may appear then subside for months or longer before appearing again.

Stress often worsens the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Getting Diagnosed for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Diagnosis is usually made on the basis of irritable bowel syndrome signs and symptoms that you are experiencing, and perhaps some diagnostic tests to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.

Tips to Control Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

Learning how to manage and control irritable bowel syndrome signs and symptoms isn’t necessarily easy – it can involve dietary and lifestyle changes that it can be difficult to maintain in the long term. However, the health benefits that are gained from reducing the severity of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are a great motivator.

Managing symptoms through diet is also highly individual. Foods affect people in different ways, so an eating plan developed for one person with irritable bowel syndrome might not necessarily work for another.

Keeping a food diary is one good way of starting to manage irritable bowel syndrome signs and symptoms, as you can use the diary to determine how various different foods affect you, and reduce your intake of foods that worsen your symptoms.

Managing stress also helps reduce the severity of symptoms.


An Evidence-Based Position Statement on the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In American Journal of Gastroenterology. 104: S1-S35; doi:10.1038/ajg.2008.122

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Information at the National Institute of Digestive Diseases

The Mayo Clinic on Irritable Bowel Syndrome