Symptoms Of IBS: Constipation

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed December 2022 | Last updated: January 2023

Constipation is a common symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is 1 of the 3 main types of IBS: IBS with constipation, or IBS-C.1

What is constipation?

Constipation is when bowel movements are less frequent than normal – usually less than 3 times per week. This results in hard, lumpy stool that may be difficult to pass.1

IBS with constipation (IBS-C)

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. Symptoms of IBS with constipation include:1,2

  • Stomach pain and discomfort
  • Straining to have a bowel movement
  • Infrequent stools
  • Stools that are hard, lumpy, and difficult to pass
  • Bloating and gas
  • Feeling that the bowel does not completely empty

What causes IBS-C?

The exact cause of IBS with constipation is not known. There may be several factors involved in an IBS-C diagnosis, like:1

  • Abnormal ways in which your intestines move and contract
  • Changes to your gut bacteria (gut microbiome)
  • A previous gastrointestinal (GI) infection
  • Genetics

Who gets IBS-C?

Some studies show that IBS with constipation is more common among women than men. But anyone can develop IBS-C.3

Treating IBS-C

There is no cure for IBS. But there are ways to manage it. Some medicines are only successful with certain types of IBS, and some medicines make certain types of IBS worse.1-3

A common first step in treating IBS-C is to avoid the foods that cause symptoms. It might be helpful to keep a food diary to learn which foods trigger symptoms for you. Everyone’s trigger foods will be slightly different.1

Doctors also recommend increasing the amount of soluble fiber in your diet, like oats and flax. They may advise taking probiotics to restore some of the gut’s healthy bacteria. Coated peppermint oil capsules have been shown to help relieve IBS-C symptoms.1,4

For IBS-C, laxatives and stool softeners are often prescribed. These drugs help you have a bowel movement.1,2,4

Antispasmodics are also used to treat IBS-C. This group of drugs help relax the muscles in the intestine. In addition to relieving constipation, they can help with abdominal pain, discomfort, and bloating.1

Common drugs to treat IBS-C include:4

  • Lubiprostone (Amitiza®)
  • Linaclotide (Linzess®)
  • Plecanatide (Trulance®)

Treating IBS – no matter the type – involves a combination of:1,2,4

  • Diet and nutrition
  • Drug therapy
  • Stress management
  • Mental health counseling

Talk with your doctor about ways to manage and treat your IBS-C.

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