Common Symptoms Of IBS
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed December 2022
For people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), common gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms include stomach pain, gas and bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. These can be experienced one at a time or in combination.1
Depending on what type of IBS you have, you may have different symptoms. There are 3 types of IBS. They are:1,2
- IBS with constipation (IBS-C): Most of your stool is hard and lumpy. You may go several days without a bowel movement.
- IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D): Most of your stool is loose and watery. You may have lots of gas and flatulence.
- IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M): You alternate between constipation and diarrhea.
Continue reading for a list of possible IBS symptoms a person might experience. If you have any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor to learn ways to manage and treat them.
Abdominal pain and cramps
Abdominal pain is the most common symptom of IBS. Many people describe their stomach pain as intense cramping.2
Having abdominal pain in addition to changes in bowel movements is a defining symptom of IBS and one that many doctors use to confirm a diagnosis.2
Diarrhea is when your stool is loose and watery. Diarrhea is a major part of IBS for people with IBS-D. It may be an issue for people with IBS-M as well. Diarrhea can be very dehydrating, so make sure you are getting enough fluids throughout the day.1,2
Constipation is when bowel movements are less frequent than normal. This results in hard, lumpy stool that may be difficult to pass. While many people deal with an occasional bout of constipation, for people with IBS-C, constipation is a common occurrence and can interfere with their quality of life.1,2
Gassiness or flatulence
Everyone experiences gas as a result of digestion and your body breaking down foods. But for people with IBS, excess gas can build up and can be quite painful.3
Gas is a common symptom experienced by both IBS-C and IBS-D sufferers. Many people with IBS complain of a swollen, bloated feeling in their bellies. They might also have particularly foul-smelling gas.1-3
Bloating is also a common symptom of IBS. Bloating is described as a swollen, tight feeling in the abdomen. It results in excess gas trapped in the stomach.1,2
The feeling of incomplete bowel movement (tenesmus)
People with IBS who have diarrhea may not feel relief after a bowel movement. Some people with IBS who have constipation may have a similar feeling. This urge to go to the bathroom but you cannot is called tenesmus. It is a common symptom of IBS.2,4
Mucus in stool
The presence of whitish mucus in your bowel movements could be an indicator of IBS. A small amount of mucus in your stool is normal. It is there to help stool move through your digestive tract. However, if you notice an increase of mucus, or if it is accompanied by changes to your bowel habits or blood in your stool, notify your doctor.2,5
Urgency and fecal incontinence
Some people with IBS – particularly IBS-D – have a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. Or, they might have a hard time controlling their bowel movements. This is called fecal incontinence. About 20 percent of people with IBS-D occasionally experience it because of diarrhea.6
Nausea sometimes overlaps with other IBS symptoms. In one study, 4 out of 10 women with IBS experienced nausea, and 3 out of 10 men did as well. But nausea can be caused by many other things, so to understand the underlying cause, talk with your doctor.7
People living with IBS may have other symptoms that are not related to the GI system. These include:8
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Depression or anxiety
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)