Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a medical condition affecting the large intestine. Cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, or both are signs and symptoms. Only a tiny percentage of IBS patients have severe signs and symptoms. Some people can manage their symptoms by changing their diet, lifestyle, and stress levels; the medication can treat more severe symptoms. IBS does not cause bowel tissue changes or increase your risk of colorectal cancer. IBS symptoms vary, but they are usually present for a long time. The most common are:
Diarrhea is the most common symptom. One of the three principal types of the disorder is IBS. It affects roughly one-third of IBS patients. A study of 200 adults discovered that those with diarrhea-predominant IBS had 12 bowel movements per week on average, more than twice the amount of adults without IBS.
In IBS, accelerated bowel transit can also cause a sudden, strong urge to urinate. Some patients report that this is a significant source of stress for them, with some even avoiding social situations out of fear of a sudden onset of diarrhea. Furthermore, stool in the diarrhea-predominant type is loose and watery, and it may contain mucus.
IBS can cause both constipation and diarrhea, which may seem counterintuitive. The most common type of IBS is constipation-predominant IBS, which affects nearly half of all IBS patients. Changes in communication between the brain and the bowel may cause the average transit time of stool to be accelerated or slowed. When transit time delays, the bowel absorbs even more water from the stool, making passage more difficult.
Chronic constipation that another disease cannot explain is referred to as “functional” constipation. It has nothing to do with IBS and is very common. Functional constipation is distinct from IBS in that it is not usually painful. Constipation in IBS, on the other hand, includes abdominal pain that subsides with bowel movements.
Constipation in IBS frequently results in the sensation of an incomplete bowel movement. This causes unnecessary strain. Exercise, staying hydrated, eating soluble fiber, taking probiotics, and using laxatives sparingly, in addition to the standard treatments for IBS, may be beneficial.
7. Alternating Constipation and Diarrhea
Around 20% of IBS patients experience mixed or alternating constipation and diarrhea. IBS diarrhea and constipation are characterized by chronic, recurring abdominal pain. The most important indicator that changes in bowel movements are not due to diet or common, mild infections is pain.
This type of IBS is more severe than others, with more frequent and severe symptoms. The symptoms of mixed IBS vary more from person to person. As a result, rather than “one-size-fits-all” recommendations, this condition necessitates an individualized treatment approach.
6. Pain and Cramping
The most usual symptom and a critical factor in diagnosis is abdominal pain. In most cases, your gut and brain collaborate to control digestion. This occurs due to hormones, nerves, and signals released by the good bacteria in your gut. These cooperative signals become distorted in IBS, resulting in uncoordinated and painful tension in the digestive tract muscles.
This pain is more likely to happen in the lower abdomen or throughout the abdomen, but it is less likely to occur in the upper abdomen alone. The pain usually subsides after a bowel movement. Dietary changes, such as a low-FODMAP diet, may help with pain and other symptoms. Bowel relaxants like cognitive behavior therapy, peppermint oil, and hypnotherapy are other treatments available.
5. Bowel Movements Changes
As the intestine absorbs water, slow-moving stool in the intestine frequently becomes dehydrated. As a result, hard stool forms, exacerbating constipation symptoms. The rapid passage of stool through the intestine leaves little time for water absorption, resulting in the loose stools associated with diarrhea. It can also cause mucus to accumulate in the stool, which is not common in other causes of constipation.
Blood in the stool can sign another potentially severe medical condition and should be investigated by your doctor. Blood in the stool can appear red, but it is more commonly very dark or black with a tarry consistency.
4. Gas and Bloating
In IBS, altered digestion results in increased gas production in the gut. This can result in bloating, which is unpleasant. Bloating is one of the most persistent and bothersome symptoms of IBS, according to many people. Bloating and cramping were reported by 83% of 337 IBS patients in a study.
Both symptoms were more common in women and constipation-predominant IBS or IBS with a mix of symptoms. Bloating can be lowered by avoiding lactose and other FODMAPs.
3. Food Intolerance
Up to 70% of people with IBS report that certain foods aggravate their symptoms. Two-thirds of IBS patients actively avoid certain foods. These people may exclude a variety of foods from their diet. While everyone’s trigger foods are unique, some common ones include gas-producing foods such as FODMAPs, as well as lactose and gluten.
2. Fatigue and Troubles Sleeping
Fatigue is reported by more than half of IBS patients. In one study, 160 adults with IBS reported having low stamina, which limited physical exertion at work, leisure, and social interactions. Another study of 85 adults discovered that the intensity of their symptoms predicted the severity of fatigue. IBS is also linked to insomnia, which manifests as difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking, and feeling tired in the morning. A study of 112 adults with IBS found that 13% had poor sleep quality.
Another study of 50 men and women discovered that those with IBS slept an hour longer but felt less awaken in the morning than those who did not have IBS. Surprisingly, a lack of sleep predicts more severe gastrointestinal symptoms the next day.
1. Anxiety and Depression
IBS has also been linked to anxiety and depression. It is unclear whether IBS symptoms manifest mental stress or whether the stress of living with IBS predisposes people to psychological problems. Regardless of which comes first, anxiety and digestive IBS symptoms reinforce each other in a vicious cycle. People with IBS were more than 50% more likely to have an anxiety disorder and more than 70% more likely to have a mood disorder, such as depression, in an extensive study of 94,000 men and women.
Another study compared stress hormone cortisol levels in patients with and without IBS. When given a public speaking task, those with IBS had higher cortisol levels, indicating higher stress levels.
Another study discovered that anxiety reduction therapy reduced stress and IBS symptoms.
When to see a doctor?
Consult your doctor if you have a consistent change in bowel habits or other IBS signs or symptoms. They could be symptoms of a more severe condition, such as colon cancer. Severe signs and symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Diarrhea at night
- Rectal bleeding
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Unexplained vomiting
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent pain that isn’t relieved by passing gas or a bowel movement