Symptom of IBS: Stomach Pain and Cramps

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2016. | Last updated: February 2020

Abdominal pain is the most common symptom of IBS. It is normally described as a cramping sensation in the abdominal area. Since it is so common, the absence of abdominal pain almost always excludes a diagnosis of IBS.1 In fact, the Rome IV diagnostic criteria define IBS as recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort that occurs at least 3 days per month in the last 3 months.2 Some people with abdominal pain describe it as a constant pain.3 About 50% of people with constipation-predominant IBS complained about abdominal pain or stomach cramping to their doctor. The definition of “stomach cramping” may vary by person, but may include gastric pain or general cramping.2

More specifically, people with IBS experience recurrent and episodic abdominal pain, which may be severe.1 People with constipation-predominant IBS had abdominal symptoms on average about 2 days per week, which included abdominal discomfort, abdominal pain, and gas pain. Among people with constipation-dependent IBS, the most extremely bothersome abdominal symptom was gas pain, followed by abdominal discomfort, abdominal pain, bloating, and stomach cramping.2 People suffering from diarrhea-predominant IBS also reported abdominal pain as the most bothersome IBS symptom.3 Lower abdominal cramping may also be felt before an episode of diarrhea.1

IBS pain and cramps interfere with daily life

Abdominal pain may interfere with daily activities. More than 38 percent of people with IBS report that abdominal pain interferes with their daily activities always or often. Almost 50 percent of IBS sufferers report interference with daily activities some of the time.3

Stomach pain and cramp treatments

For people with constipation-predominant IBS, taking over-the-counter laxatives did not alleviate abdominal pain. For diarrhea-predominant IBS, antidiarrheals did not improve abdominal pain.1

Probiotics, which can be used for all types of IBS, showed a modest improvement. Like probiotics, antispasmodics can be used for all types of IBS and was shown to improve abdominal pain. Improvement was also seen with the use of antibiotics and antidepressants. Alosetron, which is used for severe diarrhea-predominant IBS in women only, showed overall improvement in IBS symptoms including abdominal pain.1

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