Can You Have IBS Without Constipation Or Diarrhea?

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. 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 the person’s 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).

IBS symptoms

Abdominal pain accompanied by a change in bowel habits are the most common symptoms of IBS. However, IBS can frequently cause other types of symptoms as well, such as:

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.

However, some people have the experience of going to a healthcare provider with symptoms such as cramping, nausea, and gassiness, and are told by their healthcare provider that they might have IBS, or that they probably have IBS. While it is certainly possible that a person could have IBS without constipation or diarrhea, or any change in bowel habits of any kind, this would be very rare.

What might be happening in those cases is that the person’s bowel habit changes are very subtle, and less obvious than those other symptoms, so the changes went 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 healthcare provider over time to try to find the right diagnosis and the most effective treatment. Your provider 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 functional 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. Functional GI disorders, including IBS, generally affect one or more of the following functions:

  • 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 symptoms of IBS. Again, it is very important to work with your healthcare provider to find the right diagnosis. In the meantime, healthcare providers will generally recommend treating your symptoms with lifestyle changes or medications. Many of these symptoms are treated in similar ways regardless of which type of functional GI disorder is causing them.

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. 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. Healthcare providers 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.

View References
  1. IFFGD. Diagnosis of IBS. Available at http://www.aboutibs.org/diagnosis-of-ibs.html
  2. Mayo Clinic. Symptoms. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/basics/symptoms/con-20024578
  3. IFFGD. Functional GI disorders. Available at http://iffgd.org/functional-gi-disorders.html

Comments

View Comments (2)
  • esvery12
    2 months ago

    I read this article with interest. I have been experiencing intestinal, back, hip, and leg pain over several months, which has been gradually increasing in intensity. Like IBS it comes in phases, and is at its most intense when my bowels are actively working. So my local healthcare provider has diagnosed me with IBS even though my bowel movements are perfectly regular. I have tried two different antispasmodics which have had no effect of any kind on me. I am on low doses of an antidepressant which allows me to sleep but does not alleviate the pain or the frequency of the attacks. At the start of this I was also given lots of tests–MRI, CAT, X-ray. None showed any abnormality other than a lesion in a vertebra much higher up. However, so far from containing my condition, I am getting worse and worse. I feel faint, ill and in pain most days and nights and am struggling with work and everyday life. I did not realise that IBS without disruption to bowel habits was so rare and now wonder if this is in fact the right diagnosis.

  • Chris Hall moderator
    2 months ago

    Ugh, @esvery12. That sounds really frustrating to not have the answers you’re looking for. It can be really difficult to receive the proper diagnosis, unfortunately. Many folks here have attributed some symptom relief to make alterations in their diet. Have you tried this approach? – Chris, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

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