10 common signs of irritable bowel syndrome

Tharakorn/ iStockIBS goes undiagnosed in millions of patients.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the large intestine resulting in cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, mucus in the colon, gas, and diarrhoea or constipation or even both. It reportedly affects at least 6-18% of people worldwide, according to Healthline, but that may not include millions of undiagnosed patients.

IBS is tricky to diagnose because its symptoms can be similar to food sensitivities and other irritable bowel diseases.

Though it is a chronic disorder, it can be controlled by managing diet, lifestyle, and stress.

Here are the telltale signs you could have IBS.


Pain occurs in your abdomen.

wavebreakmedia/ShutterstockPain is in the lower abdomen.

Pain will generally be found in the lower abdomen, where your large intestine resides, or in the entire abdomen. Pain will typically subside after a bowel movement.


You’re dealing with both constipation and diarrhoea.

gmstockstudio/ShutterstockYou can have constipation, diarrhoea or both.

Nearly half of people have constipation-predominant IBS, a third are diarrhoea-predominant, and about a fifth have mixed or alternating IBS. Abdominal pain that occurs with both constipation and diarrhoea is a key figure in determining if you’re suffering from IBS as opposed to food or colon issues.


You’re going through a hormonal or transitional period.

IBS is more common in people under the age of 50 and twice as common in women, both groups that have historically had higher stress levels and higher hormone levels. Many women also cite increased symptoms either just before or during their period.


There’s mucus in your stool.

Demkat/ iStockExcess mucus is something to look out for.

Medical News Today assures that mucus is a normal secretion of the body, but its excess visibility in stool can be linked to constipation, dehydration, or inflammation.


You’re stressed.

Sutterstock / ChingChingThere is research behind a gut-link path.

More than half of Americans identify as “stressed,” according to the American Psychological Association’s annual report on stress levels in America. Research by Shin Fukudo at the Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine posits that irritable bowel syndrome is “thought to be a disorder of the brain-gut link associated with an exaggerated response to stress.”

Results showed that an abundance of stress hormones and even a lack of serotonin can interrupt the brain-gut pathway, leading to tension of muscles in the digestive tract. Stress and depression can have a direct effect on IBS symptoms.


A low FODMAP diet does wonders for you.

ShutterstockSwitching to a low FODMAP diet will make a difference.

The Australian National Therapeutic Guidelines were the first to recommend the low FODMAP diet for reducing symptoms in IBS patients, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders.

The term “FODMAP” refers to the short-chain carbohydrates (Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides And Polyols) that are “poorly absorbed in the small intestine and rapidly fermented by bacteria in the gut,” leading to a higher production of gas. Some high FODMAP foods include legumes, artificial sweeteners, glucose, milk, soft cheese, and certain fruits and vegetables. Switching to a low FODMAP diet high in proteins, seeds, gluten-free grains, and different fruits and vegetables may be the key to navigating IBS.


It runs in the family.

DGLimages/ iStockIBS is a mutation of the SCN5A.

Though IBS is directly linked to stress and anxiety, there is also a genetic factor. A study at the Mayo Clinic revealed that patients with IBS had a mutation of the SCN5A gene which causes “disruption in bowel function” but not every IBS patient had it. It has not officially been confirmed if IBS is hereditary, but if someone in your family has it, that may be a key to diagnosing it yourself.


Tests for other conditions keep coming back negative.

Aidan Jones / flickrIBS can’t be determined on a test.

There’s no one test that determines IBS, so x-rays, endoscopies, surgeries or biopsies won’t reveal anything, says the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. IBS is when your intestine won’t function correctly, but it will not cause lasting damage. Irritable bowel disease, which covers ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease causes “structural damage to the gut” and will show up on an exam.


You’re tired all the time.

Kite_rin/ShutterstockBeing tired makes you have worst IBS.

In a 2016 study, it was reported that IBS sufferers slept an hour longer than those who did not have IBS, yet reported that they felt more tired. Poor sleep quality will negatively affect the bowel movements of IBS sufferers during the following day.


It’s inconsistent.

Ryan Snyder/FlickrIBS can be diagnosed if it happens one day a week for the last 3 months.

People with IBS may have symptoms that affect them every day or they may go for long periods of time without symptoms. The official Rome IV criteria suggests that IBS be diagnosed if it occurs at least one day a week for the last three months, but the erratic nature of the disorder allows doctors to stray from these guidelines.

Keeping a pain diary and a food journal are great ways to aid diagnostic experts.

IBS can be managed with the help of a Gastroenterologist, but seek immediate attention if you have lost significant weight or have consistent pain that isn’t relieved by passing a bowel movement.

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