Irritable Bowel Syndrome: When To Call Your Doctor

Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on August 24, 2020

Your doctor has told you that you have irritable bowel syndrome and you’re learning how to live with it. You think you’ve got it under control when along comes a new symptom, or the ones you already have just won’t go away. Should you make a doctor’s appointment or wait it out?

If you’re not sure, it’s always best to get it checked. Whenever you have a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome that lasts a long time, or if you get a new symptom, see your doctor.

If you usually take over-the-counter medications but now they don’t ease problems like diarrhea, gas, or cramping, you also need to see a doctor.

Common and ‘Red-Flag’ Symptoms

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic -- meaning long-term -- condition with symptoms that come and go. It usually doesn’t lead to more serious diseases, but there are “red flags” to look for. These are signs that could mean something more serious is going on.

The most common symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, and cramping. These are problems anyone can have, but whenever your pain is worse than usual, or you have a new pain in a different part of your body, you should see a doctor.

What to Watch For

A red-flag symptom is one that isn’t usually seen with irritable bowel syndrome. If you have one or more, you’ll need to have tests to find out why. These include:

Rectal bleeding. It could just be a side effect from your irritable bowel syndrome constipation, caused by a tear in your anus. The bleeding also might be caused by a hemorrhoid. But if you have a large amount of blood in your stool, or if the bleeding just won’t go away, you should get medical attention as soon as possible.

Weight loss. If you find you’re losing weight for no reason, it’s time to get it checked out.

Fever, vomiting, and anemia.  If you have one or more, or think you do, you should call your doctor.

Any of these problems could point to another, more serious condition. Your doctor can help you figure out what’s going on.

Even if you don’t think the problem is physically part of IBS, but it bothers you, tell your doctor. For example, if you’re stressed out or anxious about it, or if you’re losing sleep over the problem, let your doctor know.

WebMD Medical Reference



The IBS Network: “When Should I See My Doctor?”

Colitis & Crohn’s Foundation of America: “IBS and IBD: Two Very Different Disorders.” “Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).”

American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons: “Irritable Bowel Syndrome Expanded Version.”

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: “Changes You Should Not Ignore If You Have IBS.”

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