Symptoms of IBS

The symptoms of IBS can range from constipation to diarrhoea


Alison Cullen
Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
@AVogelUK
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An introduction to the symptoms of IBS

An estimated 1 in 10 people suffer from IBS. Symptoms can be troublesome, persistent and embarrassing.

IBS symptoms vary from person to person in severity, how long they last, well as the type of symptoms experienced. Keeping track of these can be important as the pattern of occurrence can help when forming a diagnosis.

Stomach pain

Pain in the stomach (or more accurately, the abdomen) is one of the most common symptoms of IBS. It is also one of the first symptoms experienced.

Stomach pain in IBS is usually described as cramps or spasms, but occasionally as sharp or stabbing pain. Sufferers often recognise that certain foods trigger symptoms, although the effects are not always clear or immediate.

However, if stomach pains are part of IBS, they usually appear shortly after a meal and ease after passing wind or stools.

Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is the passing of loose or watery stools, often associated with the need for more frequent bowel movements.

Diarrhoea resulting from a stomach bug tends to only last a few days. Diarrhoea due to IBS hangs around for much longer. Certain foods can trigger the symptom and if these are eaten, diarrhoea comes about shortly after a meal.

For some people, diarrhoea or loose motions can be present most or all of the time. IBS diarrhoea can be interspersed with bouts of constipation.

Constipation

Constipation is the opposite of diarrhoea where bowel movements become less frequent. There is no clear definition of constipation, but most naturopaths would say that you need to open your bowels at least once per day.

IBS can cause constipation. As it also causes diarrhoea, it is not clearly understood why we have two opposite symptoms with one health problem.

Stools are often hard, abnormally small (pellet like) or large and difficult to pass. It can feel as if the bowels have not been properly emptied, even immediately after going to the toilet.

Bloating

A feeling of being bloated in IBS is usually caused by a build-up of gas in the abdomen. This most commonly affects the lower part of the bowel (lower small intestines and / or large bowel) but may also be present further up the digestive tract.

Normal digestion of food leads to small amounts of gas in the bowel. However, when this process is disturbed or uncoordinated, food in the gut starts to ‘ferment’ giving rise to an increase in the amount of gas produced.

Flatulence

Flatulence is defined as the release of gas through the back passage. Some people may however refer to gas released through the mouth (burping) also as flatulence.

It is estimated that, in good health, all of us pass up to 1.5 litres of gas a day. Although flatulence is normal, it can be embarrassing and problematic, especially if in excess.

IBS can lead to excessive production of gas as the normal digestive process is disturbed. This leads to the feeling of bloating and flatulence as excessive wind is released.

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