Keeping A Symptom Diary

A symptom diary is a written account of all of your symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The diary can also keep track of additional important factors, such as diet, stress level, emotions, medications taken and exercise activity. The diary can be a helpful record for you and your doctor in many ways:

  • It provides insight into the frequency and severity of your symptoms
  • It can help you track trigger foods, emotions or stressors
  • It can track the effectiveness of your treatments

To get the most benefit from a symptom diary, data should be recorded for several weeks on a regular basis, ideally daily. You may choose to use a blank journal or notebook of your own, or you can download a free printable version of a diary from the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.1

If you choose to use your own, here are some ideas for what to record:

  • Stool description: hard, pellet-like, lumpy, sausage-shaped, soft blobs, diarrhea, mushy, liquid, mucus in stool2,3
  • Stool passage: frequency, incomplete evacuation, urgency, incontinent, stain/smear, straining, constipated1,2,3
  • Gas: belching, flatulent, bloated1,3
  • Pain: abdominal cramping, pain on either side of abdomen, tender when touched, rectal pain (sharp, dull, burning; feels like hard object is in rectum; cramping sensation in rectum); also note how severe the pain is, like using a 1-10 scale1
  • Emotional state: note how you feel and why. Examples: happy, relaxed, anxious, nervous, sad, unhappy, depressed, tired (mentally tired, physically tired), worried, angry, scared, disappointed1
  • Current stressors: daily obligations, family, work, school, shopping, medical appointments, illness, injury, trauma, surgery, personal/intimate1
  • Medications: include any prescription or over-the-counter drugs, herbs, supplements and their dosage1
  • Hormonal factors (for women): menstruation, PMS, ovulation (if known) 1
  • Food: detail everything you eat, including spices1
  • Beverages: note caffeinated or decaffeinated, carbonated, diet/sugar free, alcohol, fruit juices, etc.1
  • Exercise: list activities – such as walking, biking, running, house work – and the duration of each1

Take your symptom diary with you to doctor appointments. This information can be helpful in diagnosis as well as in finding the most effective treatment to manage your symptoms.

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: June 2016.
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