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Common Signs and Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Updated on December 4, 2015

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) states that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is most prevalent amongst 20 and 30 year olds and is twice as common in women than it is in men. Additionally, the occurrence of IBS in the general population accounts for approximately 10%-20% of the population. Therefore, up to one fifth of the population will suffer from symptoms of IBS.

IBS can be a debilitating condition and the symptoms can significantly impair a sufferer's quality of life, it is therefore important to understand what the symptoms are and to ensure that if you think you may be suffering from the condition, you have this confirmed by a General Practitioner.

This article provides information regarding the most common symptoms to look for if you consider that you may be suffering from IBS.

It is important to note that for a definite diagnosis to be made symptoms must have been present for six months or more.

Severity of Symptoms

When considering the symptoms of your IBS it is important to note that the severity of the condition can vary dramatically. Some sufferers may only have short lived or intermittent symptoms that do not significantly affect their quality of life, whilst others develop life-long, chronic, severe symptoms that will require close management to treat.

It may be helpful to keep a food and symptoms diary so that you can explain to your GP exactly how your condition is affecting you.

Abdominal pain or discomfort

A key symptom of IBS is the presence of frequent abdominal pain or discomfort. Your GP will need information as the frequency of the pain and the quality of the pain. It is also important that you keep a record of where exactly the pain occurs on each episode. IBS related pain does not usually just occur at a fixed site. It is more common for the pain to move about the abdomen. If you find that your abdomen pain only occurs in one fixed site then it is very important that you point this out to your GP.



Sufferers from IBS often find that they have a distended abdomen when they are experiencing a 'flare up' of the condition and this is referred to as bloating. This bloating is often associated with a feeling of tension or hardness of the abdomen. Some sufferers describe feeling as though the stomach is blown up like a balloon. This symptom is more common in women than in men, and often worsens during the evening.

Unlike as is the case with other conditions, the bloating is not thought to be as a result of excess wind but actually due to the inconsistent movement of contents through the bowel.


Changes in bowel habit

Symptoms of IBS can include a change in bowel habit. This can either take the form of diarrhoea, constipation or even a mixture of both. These symptoms can seriously impair the sufferer's quality of life especially if the sufferer is embarrassed by the symptoms. A 'flare up' of IBS may cause the sufferer to feel a desperate urge to go to the toilet as a result of loose stools. Alternatively, some sufferers report debilitating constipation which may also be accompanied by an uncomfortable feeling of not having passed a stool completely.

Your GP may diagnose your IBS as:

  • diarrhoea predominant;
  • constipation predominant;
  • alternating symptoms.

Changes in bowel habit may also be accompanied by the passing of mucus.

Other symptoms that may be associated with IBS

Other symptoms commonly reported by IBS sufferers include:

  • Lethargy - a feeling of tiredness when a 'flare up' occurs.
  • Nausea
  • Backache
  • Bladder symptoms

How a diagnosis of IBS is made

NICE provides the following guidelines for GPs looking at a diagnosis of IBS.

As mentioned above symptoms must have been in existence for a minimum of six months. NICE also states that a diagnosis of IBS should only be considered if the person has abdominal pain or discomfort that is either relieved by defecation or associated with a change in bowel movements or stool form. Importantly NICE states that this must also be accompanied by at least two of the following symptoms:

  1. Altered stool passage
  2. abdominal bloating (although this is more common in women than men)
  3. symptoms are made worse by eating
  4. passage of mucus

Your GP might also carry out a series of diagnostic tests but this will primarily be to rule out the existence of any other condition.


The information contained in this article is based on the following credible sources:


Please note that this article has been formulated using reliable research documents (listed under references). However, it is not a substitute for medical advice which should always be sought for a definite diagnosis to be made of any condition. If you are worried about any symptoms you are experiencing, please contact a qualified healthcare practitioner.


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