Symptom Of IBS: A Feeling Of Incomplete Bowel Movement

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2016. | Last updated: November 2022

Tenesmus is the medical term for the feeling that you need to have a bowel movement, even though your bowels are already empty. The feeling may include pain, cramping, and involve straining while trying to pass stools.1 Feelings of incomplete bowel movements may be a predictor of IBS.2

Who experiences incomplete bowel or tenesmus?

People with IBS who have diarrhea may feel incomplete relief after a bowel movement. Some people with IBS who have constipation may have a similar feeling of incomplete relief after a bowel movement.2 However, given that IBS impacts everyone differently, there are some IBS sufferers who don't experience tenesmus.

Tenesmus symptoms

Constipation-predominant IBS sufferers report feeling incomplete bowel movements an average of 2 days per week.3 An IBS sufferer with tenesmus may strain to empty their bowels, but will only pass a small amount of stool.1 About 50% of people with constipation-predominant IBS consider an incomplete bowel movement to be a very or extremely bothersome symptom.3

Tenesmus causes

There are several potential causes for tenesmus, including:1

  • Anorectal abscess
  • Colorectal cancer or tumors
  • Crohn's disease
  • Infection of the colon (infectious colitis)
  • Inflammation of the colon or rectum from radiation (radiation proctitis or colitis)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Movement (motility) disorder of the intestines
  • Ulcerative colitis

Prepare for your doctor's visit?

Your health care provider will ask you several questions related to your symptoms, and will also perform a physical exam. Some of the questions they may ask include:

  • When did this first occur? Have you had it before?
  • What are your symptoms?
  • Have you eaten any raw, new, or unfamiliar foods? Have you eaten at a picnic or large gathering?
  • Have any others in your household experienced similar problems?
  • What other health problems do you have or have you had in the past?

Your health care provider may perform a detailed physical exam of your abdomen, and may request that one or more of the following tests be done for further evaluation:1

Tenesmus treatments

Talk to your doctor. More than a quarter of people with constipation-predominant IBS were concerned about their symptom of incomplete bowel movements and addressed this symptom with their doctor.4  It may be suggested that eating more fiber and drinking more water may help ease symptoms.1

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