Symptom of IBS: Diarrhea

Written by: Truc Thanh | Last reviewed: June 2016. | Last updated: February 2020

Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms of IBS. Diarrhea is a major part of IBS for people who are diarrhea-predominant and may be an issue for people with mixed- or alternating-IBS.1 Mixed diarrhea and constipation and diarrhea-predominant IBS are the two most prevalent types of IBS.2

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is described as frequent loose stools preceded by lower abdominal cramping. People with diarrhea may have a feeling of urgency and incomplete relief after a bowel movement or they may have mucus in the stools. More than one third of diarrhea sufferers experience loss of bowel control and a sudden urge to have bowel movements.3 IBS is not usually characterized by large volume, bloody, or nocturnal diarrhea.1

Who gets diarrhea?

Diarrhea is experienced by both men and women.3 A small percentage of people with diarrhea-predominant or mixed IBS may have celiac disease. Therefore, an adverse reaction to gluten may lead to diarrhea.1 Approximately 3 to 5 percent of the general population has diarrhea from any cause.4

Diarrhea causes

The Bristol Stool Scale may be used by your doctor to determine stool consistency and differentiate between constipation and diarrhea. Depending on the result of the Bristol Stool Scale, proper treatment can be used to manage symptoms.1

Your health care provider may ask you some of the following questions:4-6

    • When did the diarrhea start?
    • Would you describe it as watery or fatty?
    • Do you see blood or pus in the diarrhea?
    • How often do you have diarrhea?
    • Can you always control your bowel movements?
    • What makes the diarrhea worse? What makes it better?
    • Have you recently traveled? Taken medications? Changed your diet?
    • Do you have any food allergies?
    • What other symptoms do you have?
    • Has anyone in your family been diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease?

Your health care provider may also look and listen to your abdomen. It's possible that he or she will perform a rectal examination to look for signs of perianal disease, which suggests inflammatory bowel disease.2 If signs of perianal disease or rectal bleeding are found, you will probably need additional tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Diarrhea treatments

Antidiarrheals may be used for diarrhea-predominant IBS to decrease stool frequency and increase stool consistency.1 Approximately 64 percent of people with IBS reported use of over-the-counter antidiarrheals to relieve symptoms. Prescription medications were also used by about 50% of people with diarrhea-predominant IBS.3

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