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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on August 20, 2021

We all have stomachaches and trouble going to the bathroom once in a while, but for people with IBS, the chronic pain and discomfort can be disabling.

Along with abdominal cramping and discomfort, IBS symptoms may include:

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 IV criteria, requires that you have these symptoms for at least 1 day a week in the last 3 months and that symptoms started at least 6 months prior. But most doctors don't follow that requirement closely, says Philip Schoenfeld, MD. 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. 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.

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.

IBS Symptom Journal

Your doctor may ask you to keep an IBS symptom journal. This record can help you and your doctor figure out what triggers your IBS and how to deal with those triggers.

Remember, a variety of factors can set off IBS: Certain types of food, the volume of food, stress, medicines, your menstrual cycle, and your environment.

You may find, for instance, that you tend to feel bloated after eating snacks during office meetings. Knowing what influences your eating and what causes you distress can help in developing prevention strategies.

Fill this out as soon as you experience symptoms. Print extra copies to have on hand.

Date/Time Symptoms Began   
Date/Time Symptoms Ended   
Description of Symptoms (pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, etc.)   
Where were you and what were you doing when symptoms started?   
Pre-Symptom Activity   
Type of Food Eaten   
Amount of Food Eaten (Rate 1-10 with 10 as an excessive portion.)   
Medications Taken   
Suspected Trigger(s)   
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

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.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: "Irritable Bowel Syndrome."

Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, author of the "American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion."

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