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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

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Symptoms

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include:

  • Changes in bowel movement patterns.
  • Bloating and excess gas.
  • Pain the lower belly.
  • Mucus in stools.

You are more likely to have IBS if you have these symptoms and they have lasted at least 6 months, you have had belly pain at least 3 days each month for at least 3 months, and at least two of the following are true:1

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  • The pain is relieved by having a bowel movement.
  • The pain is linked to a change in how often you have a bowel movement.
  • The pain is linked to a change in the appearance or consistency of your stool.

Because there are no structural problems in the intestines of people who have IBS, some people may think this means that the symptoms "are all in their head." This isn't true. The pain, discomfort, and bloating are real. They have many different causes that can be addressed to help relieve symptoms.

Bowel movement patterns

When you have IBS, your pattern of bowel movements may be different over time. Two or more of the following may happen:

  • Bowel movements may occur either more often (diarrhea) or less often (constipation) than usual. For example, you may have more than 3 bowel movements a day or less than 3 a week.
  • Bowel movements may differ in size or consistency. They may be hard and small, pencil-thin, or loose and watery.
  • The way stools pass changes. You may strain, feel an urgent need to have a bowel movement, or feel that you haven't completely passed a stool.
  • You may have bloating or a feeling of gas in the intestines.

Other intestinal symptoms

Some people may have pain in the lower belly with constipation that is sometimes followed by diarrhea. Other people have pain and mild constipation but no diarrhea.

Some people have intestinal gas and passage of mucus in stools.

Nongastrointestinal symptoms

You may sometimes have other symptoms that don't affect the intestines, such as:

  • Anxiety or depression.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth.
  • Backache.
  • Sleep problems (insomnia) not caused by symptoms of IBS.
  • Sexual problems, such as pain during sex or reduced sexual desire.
  • Heart palpitations. (You may feel like your heart skips a beat or is fluttering.)
  • Urinary symptoms. (You may have a frequent or urgent need to urinate, trouble starting the urine stream, or trouble emptying your bladder.)

Symptoms often occur after a meal, during stressful times, or during menstruation.

There are many other conditions with symptoms similar to IBS.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 05, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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