What are the Symptoms of IBS?

Jan 21, 2017 by


You can have me read this article to you instead of reading it yourself…

Or you can read it the old-fashioned way below…

We’ve already gone over my take on what IBS is and what can cause it to occur.  Now we’re going to jump into discussing what the symptoms are.  I think you might find that this is where my description diverges the most from what you have found on other sites.

IBS Symptoms

IBS is a difficult condition to pin down. Every person not only has a slightly different set of symptoms, but each person may also experience the symptoms at different times.  The actual source of “irritation” that is causing the IBS can lead to different types of symptoms and symptoms that range from mild to severe.

This is also a condition that is very prone to fluctuating over time. Some stretches of time may be tolerable, followed by very difficult stretches that greatly reduce quality of life.

We already covered the basics of how IBS is diagnosed, which is through an evaluation of your symptoms using something called the ROME-III Criteria.  Your doctor may be interested in other symptoms that many people consider very important and difficult to manage. Here are some of the most common ones that are strongly connected to IBS:

  • Excessive straining or urgency when stooling
  • Many and frequent trips to the bathroom
  • A feeling of bloating

You might notice that these are symptoms that a most people experience here and there.  One of the ways to separate those that do not have IBS from those that do is that with IBS, these symptoms occur consistently for stretches of time.  And when they do occur, they can lead to anxiety and stress and make it really make it difficult to go about daily life.

Another distinguishing aspect of IBS is that it can cause entirely opposite symptoms for some people – constipation or diarrhea (or both!).  The symptom that you experience most will lead the doctor to diagnose you with a specific class of IBS.


IBS-D indicates that the most common symptom is diarrhea.  The ‘most common’ symptom means that it occurs for more than 25% of all stools.  Other stools can be normal and a few of them can involve constipation, but more than 25% of all of them must be diarrhea in order to be classified as IBS-D.

These symptoms occur while awake, and it is very unusual to be woken up in the middle of the night with a feeling of urgency.  However, during the time that a person is awake, there can be very extreme urgency, and going to the bathroom does not always provide a sense of relief.  It is also important to note that the term ‘diarrhea’ can span a wide range, but generally means loose, unformed, or even watery stool.


IBS-C indicates that the most common symptom is constipation.  The ‘most common’ symptom means that it occurs for more than 25% of all stools.  Other stools can be normal and a few of them can involve diarrhea, but more than 25% of all of them must be constipation in order to be classified as IBS-C.

Although someone only needs to experience constipation more than 25% of the time to be classified as having IBS-C, some people will experience constipation that lasts for months at a time.  As you might expect, this form of IBS can lead to a lot of straining.  And straining, in turn, leads to other side effects such as the development of hemorrhoids and also bleeding.


This form of IBS is literally a mixed bag, with the M standing for mixed.  To be classified as IBS-M, a person must experience diarrhea for more than 25% of their stools, AND constipation for more than 25% of their stools.  This is different than forms C and D because those had one symptom that clearly occurred more often than the other.  Those with IBS-M, on the other hand will experience both of these symptoms with some consistency.  And they will notice that the symptoms alternate for stretches of time.

When Symptoms Appear

When a symptom appears can also be very different from person to person.  Some people with IBS will experience chronic symptoms that are always present and may worsen at certain times.  Others will only experience symptoms periodically.  Some people refer to these as symptom ‘flares’, which typically happen alongside some change in stress, diet, or illness.

The fluctuation in symptom presence and severity can lead to an unexpected complication for some people – anxiety.  In fact, many GI conditions have been associated with an increased rate of anxiety and depression, and there are many reasons for this correlation.  This goes beyond the scope of what we are discussing here, but have no fear!  The brain-gut pathway, as it is called, is discussed in detail here.

Other Symptoms

It is not uncommon for people with IBS to experience some other GI symptoms, such as acid reflux and stomach pain.  However, anyone with an IBS diagnosis must be on the look-out for another set of specific symptoms.  If these symptoms occur, they might mean that something other than IBS is going on and that your doctor should be consulted.  These include significant weight loss, stools that are very bloody, and urgency that wakes you up throughout the night.  If your family has a history of other GI conditions, including IBD, Celiac, or colon cancer, then it is important to make sure that your doctor is aware of this.


Interested in more information on IBS?

Next: How is IBS Diagnosed?

Or refer back to the IBS Info Hub.


Trivia and Terminology:

Blood Looks Different when it comes from different areas – dark or black colors usually indicate blood from inside of the GI tract; whereas fresh blood usually indicates bleeding caused by straining

IBS-D: Diarrhea-dominant

IBS-C: Constipation-dominant

IBS-M: Mixed diarrhea and constipation


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