Can You Have IBS Without Constipation or Diarrhea?
Last updated: March 2023
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that can cause a range of different symptoms. These symptoms may vary among different people with IBS, and people with IBS may find that their own symptoms change over time.1
The most common symptom of IBS is pain or cramping in the abdomen, which may come and go but is usually experienced at least one day a week. The majority of people with IBS have abdominal pain that is related to bowel movements in some way: diarrhea, constipation, or alternating diarrhea and constipation. Stools may become more or less frequent, and/or there may be a change in the consistency of the stools (harder or more loose/watery).2-4
Abdominal pain accompanied by a change in bowel habits are the most common symptoms of IBS. However, IBS can often cause other types of symptoms as well, such as:1,2
IBS without constipation or diarrhea
A common question is whether or not a person can have IBS without constipation or diarrhea, and the answer to this question is a complex one. According to the most up-to-date criteria that many healthcare providers use as guidance when they make a diagnosis of IBS, the patient should have abdominal cramping that is linked to a change in bowel function: constipation and/or diarrhea.2
Subtle bowel changes
However, some people may have the experience of going to a healthcare provider with symptoms such as cramping, nausea, and gassiness and being told that they might have IBS. What might be happening in those cases is that the person’s bowel habit changes are very subtle. Because they are less obvious than those other symptoms, the changes go unnoticed.
For example, their stools might be just slightly less frequent or harder in consistency, or they might be slightly more frequent and looser in consistency.
This is why it is important to work with your doctor over time to try to find the right diagnosis and the most effective treatment. Your doctor might recommend that you pay close attention to your bowel habits and keep record of them over a period of time so that any changes are more likely to be noticed.
Other gastrointestinal disorders
Another possibility is that a person who has symptoms of IBS without constipation or diarrhea actually has some other type of condition that is related to IBS. IBS is a type of functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, which is the name for a group of disorders that are related to the interaction between a person’s brain and digestive system.4
Functional GI disorders, including IBS, generally affect one or more of the following functions:4
- The movement of the intestines
- The sensitivity of the nerves inside the intestines
- How the brain controls the activities of the intestines
There are dozens of different types of functional gastrointestinal disorders, many of which have symptoms that are very similar to those of IBS. Again, it is very important to work with your doctor to find the right diagnosis.4,5
In the meantime, doctors generally recommend treating your symptoms with lifestyle changes or medicines. Many of these symptoms are treated in similar ways regardless of which type of functional GI disorder is causing them.4,5
Yet another possibility is that symptoms such as cramping, gas, bloating, and nausea are not being caused by IBS or some other functional GI disorder at all. Instead, the symptoms may be caused by some other condition like celiac disease or a food sensitivity, such as lactose intolerance.5
While there is no specific test that can make a definite diagnosis of IBS, there are tests that can be used to detect celiac disease and food intolerances. Doctors might recommend such tests to either rule out or help make a diagnosis of IBS if they suspect that your symptoms may have other causes.5
Do you have a good understanding of what triggers your flares?