There are three types of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. They include:
IBS with constipation. This comes with stomach pain and discomfort, bloating, abnormally delayed or infrequent bowel movement, or lumpy/hard stool.
IBS with diarrhea. This comes with stomach pain and discomfort, an urgent need to move your bowels, abnormally frequent bowel movements, or loose/watery stool.
IBS with alternating constipation and diarrhea.
There are about an equal number of people...
Bowel movements that feel uncontrollably urgent, difficult to pass, or incomplete
Clear or white mucus with the stool
To determine whether your digestive problems are truly IBS, doctors need to see two out of the following three features:
A bowel movement relieves the ache and suffering
There's a change in how often the stool comes out
The stool looks different
The standard diagnostic guideline for IBS, called the Rome III criteria, requires that you have these symptoms for at least 12 weeks during the past 6 months. But most doctors don't follow that requirement closely, says Philip Schoenfeld, MD, MSEd, MSc. He is co-author of the American College of Gastroenterology's IBS treatment guidelines.
Schoenfeld says it's tough for patients to remember the exact number of weeks they had symptoms in the preceding year. He suggests that people not wait. Instead, see a doctor whenever you have recurrent symptoms.
Doctors can determine whether your symptoms are IBS or signs of another problem. IBS is often confused with other illnesses, so doctors will need to ask questions and perform tests to confirm a diagnosis.
Blood in the stool, fever, weight loss, and continuing pain are NOT symptoms of IBS. If you have these symptoms, see a doctor right away.
Philip Schoenfeld, MD, MSEd, MSc, co-author of the American College of Gastroenterology's "Evidence-Based Guidelines on the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome."
Current Psychiatry Web site.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: "Irritable Bowel Syndrome."