Signs and Symptoms of IBS

The most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are recurring abdominal pain and changes in stool consistency. While IBS is considered a functional bowel disorder, these symptoms can be frustrating and may impact your overall quality of life. It's important to understand and log the symptoms you may be experiencing and to talk to your healthcare professional about ways to manage your ongoing symptoms.

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Predominant Symptoms

The most common symptoms of IBS are:

Some people may also have a range of other common symptoms.

Abdominal Pain

People who have IBS often describe their abdominal pain as spasms, cramping, dull aching, and overall general stomach discomfort. This pain may be mild, moderate, or severe. For some people, their IBS pain is relieved when they have a bowel movement, while others may not experience relief at all. Abdominal pain may get worse after eating or when you are under a lot of stress.

Bowel Habits: Diarrhea

Diarrhea occurs when someone has loose and watery stools. With IBS, people often experience diarrhea along with abdominal cramping and feelings of urgency. Sometimes the urgency is so significant that you may be fearful of, or actually experience, bathroom accidents.

Bowel movements may occur three or more times in a single day. If diarrhea is the primary problem, the diagnosis will be diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D).

Bowel Habits: Constipation

Constipation occurs when you have hard, dry, difficult-to-pass stools. When constipation is present, bowel movements happen less than three times per week.

When constipation is the primary problem, the diagnosis becomes constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C).

Bowel Habits: Alternating

Sometimes people with IBS experience alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation. Experiencing these two extremes may happen over the course of months, weeks, or even in the same day.

When this is the case, it is diagnosed as alternating-type IBS (IBS-A), also known as mixed-type IBS.

Other Common Symptoms

In addition to issues with the abdominal pain and bowel movements, IBS symptoms may also include indigestion as well as various sensations involving the bowels. Consequently, other primary symptoms of IBS include:

  • Feeling that you have not completely emptied after a bowel movement (incomplete evacuation)
  • Mucus on the stool
  • Excessive gassiness and flatulence
  • Bloating that may or may not worsen as the day goes on
  • Excessive belching
  • Feeling a lump in the throat (globus)
  • Heartburn and acid reflux
  • Indigestion
  • Lessened appetite
  • Nausea

Additional Symptoms

While stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation are the primary signs of IBS, they are not the only symptoms people experience. The following can seem unrelated to IBS, but paint a bigger picture for your healthcare provider upon further examination. For this reason, it is important to document and share all of your symptoms with your healthcare provider.

  • Pain in other parts of the body: headaches, back pain, muscle aches
  • Sleep problems
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Bladder urgency
  • Increased frequency of the need to urinate
  • Fatigue
  • Increased pain associated with menstruation
  • Pain during intercourse


The condition typically does not increase your risk of cancer, nor does it damage your intestines. However, the repeated bouts of diarrhea and constipation can cause you to develop hemorrhoids.

What's more, if you have IBS, you are at a greater risk for dehydration, especially if you have chronic diarrhea and do not take in an adequate amount of water and electrolytes.

If you struggle more with constipation, there is a risk of developing impacted bowels.

There are also nutritional concerns related to the dietary restrictions associated with IBS management. For this reason, a nutritionist or dietician can help ensure you are meeting all of your nutritional needs.

People with moderate to severe IBS also tend to have a poorer quality of life. For instance, their bathroom issues often cause them to cancel social engagements or force them to leave early due to the pain or the need to use the restroom frequently. Research shows they also may miss more work than people without IBS.

The symptoms can be so significant and disruptive that some patients are at risk of developing mood disorders such as depression or anxiety.

In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 50% to 90% of those who seek treatment for IBS also struggle with an anxiety disorder or depression. Many people with IBS also worry that their healthcare provider has misdiagnosed them and overlooked a more serious disorder. If you have concerns about your symptoms, or you are depressed or anxious, talk to your healthcare provider.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Everyone experiences occasional bouts of diarrhea and constipation. However, if you are experiencing repeated episodes of abdominal pain and your bowel habits have changed dramatically over the past three months, you absolutely should make an appointment with your healthcare provider.

You also should see a healthcare provider if you're experiencing digestive symptoms that aren't related to IBS. For instance, the following list describes symptoms that are NOT typical of IBS and would warrant further investigation through an immediate consultation with your healthcare provider:

  • Fever (over 102 degrees or lasting more than three days)
  • Blood in or on the stool, (may be only from hemorrhoids, but MUST be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare provider)
  • Significant lack of appetite (that is not explained by a reluctance to eat trigger foods)
  • Significant and unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Ongoing episodes of vomiting
  • Anemia
  • Symptom onset after the age of 50 (and not attributed to having your gallbladder removed)

You can use our Doctor Discussion Guide below to help start that conversation.

IBS Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man

Because IBS shares some of the symptoms of other, more serious digestive diseases, it is essential that you see your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis. While you could have IBS, symptoms such as fever, blood in the stool, unexplained weight loss, or vomiting likely indicate something else entirely.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What foods can trigger IBS symptoms?

    It can vary from person to person, but some foods are more likely to cause problems. These can include dairy products, fatty foods, caffeinated drinks, alcohol, or certain fruits and vegetables. Your healthcare provider may suggest keeping notes in a food diary to get an idea of which foods make your symptoms worse.

  • What foods can help calm IBS symptoms?

    Adding more high-fiber foods may help, especially if you have constipation-predominant IBS. Try adding them slowly—if you increase fiber too quickly, you may feel worse with symptoms like gas and cramping. You should eventually aim for 20 grams of fiber each day. A low-FODMAP diet may also help with symptoms, but check with your healthcare provider first to make sure you're getting the nutrients you need.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Anastasi JK, Capili B, Chang M. Managing irritable bowel syndrome. Am J Nurs. 2013;113(7):42-52. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000431911.65473.35

  2. Vahedi H, Ansari R, Mir-nasseri M, Jafari E. Irritable bowel syndrome: a review article. Middle East J Dig Dis. 2010;2(2):66-77.

  3. Enck P, Aziz Q, Barbara G, et al. Irritable bowel syndrome. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2016;2:16014. doi:10.1038/nrdp.2016.14

  4. Van tilburg MA, Palsson OS, Whitehead WE. Which psychological factors exacerbate irritable bowel syndrome? Development of a comprehensive model. J Psychosom Res. 2013;74(6):486-92. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.03.004

  5. Helvaci MR, Algin MC, Kaya H. Irritable bowel syndrome and chronic gastritis, hemorrhoid, urolithiasis. Eurasian J Med. 2009;41(3):158-61.

  6. Soares RL. Irritable bowel syndrome: a clinical review. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(34):12144-60. doi:10.3748/wjg.v20.i34.12144

  7. Corsetti M, Whorwell P. The global impact of IBS: time to think about IBS-specific models of care? Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2017;10(9):727-736. doi:10.1177/1756283X17718677

  8. Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

  9. U.S Department of Health & Human Services. Office on Women's Health. Irritable bowel syndrome.

Additional Reading
  • Understand the Facts: Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

  • Wilkins T, Pepitone C, Alex B, Schade R. Diagnosis and Management of IBS in Adults. American Family Physician. 2012; 86(5):419-426.

  • Minocha A, Adamec C. The Encyclopedia of the Digestive System and Digestive Disorders. (2nd Ed.) New York:Facts on File. 2011.

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.