The signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can vary widely from person to person and often resemble those of other diseases. Among the most common are:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- A bloated feeling
- Gas (flatulence)
- Diarrhea or constipation — sometimes even alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea
- Mucus in the stool
Like many people, you may have only mild signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. However, sometimes these problems can be disabling. In some cases, you may have severe signs and symptoms that don't respond well to medical treatment. Because symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can occur with other more serious diseases, it's best to discuss these symptoms with your doctor.
For most people, IBS is a chronic condition, although there will likely be times when the signs and symptoms are worse and times when they improve or even disappear completely.
When to see a doctor
It's important to see your doctor if you have a persistent change in bowel habits or if you have any other signs or symptoms of IBS. These may indicate a more serious condition, such as an infection or colon cancer.
Your doctor may be able to help you find ways to relieve symptoms as well as rule out other more-serious colon conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, which are forms of inflammatory bowel disease.
Jul. 29, 2011
- Irritable bowel syndrome. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs/ibs.pdf. Accessed June 7, 2011.
- Kahn S, et al. Diagnosis and management of IBS. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2010;7:565.
- Frequently asked questions. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. http://www.aboutibs.org/site/about-ibs/faq. Accessed June 7, 2011.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec02/ch021666/ch021666a.html. Accessed June 7, 2011.
- Wald A. Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed June 7, 2011.
- Wald A. Pathophysiology of irritable bowel syndrome. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed June 7, 2011.
- Videlock EJ, et al. Irritable bowel syndrome: Current approach to symptoms, evaluation, and treatment. Gastroenterology Clinics of North America. 2007;36: 665.
- Camilleri M, et al. Current medical treatments of dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology Clinics of North America. 2010;39:481.
- Dorn SD. Systematic review: Self-management support interventions for irritable bowel syndrome. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2010;32:513.