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Symptom Of IBS: A Feeling Of Incomplete Bowel Movement

What is tenesmus?

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

Does tenesmus affect everybody with IBS?

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.

How often do tenesmus symptoms occur?

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

What causes tenesmus?

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

How can I prepare for my 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 he or she 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

How can I find tenesmus relief?

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

Written by: Truc Thanh | Last reviewed: June 2016.
  1. MedlinePlus. Tenesmus. Accessed April 7, 2016.
  2. Wilkins T, Pepitone C, Alex B, Schade RR. Diagnosis and management of IBS in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86:419-426.
  3. Heidelbaugh JJ, Stelwagon M, Miller SA, Shea EP, Chey WD. The spectrum of constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome and chronic idiopathic constipation: US survey assessing symptoms, care seeking, and disease burden. Am J Gastroenterol. 2015 Apr;110(4):580-7.
  4. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. IBS in the Real World Survey. Summary Findings. August 2002.