9 Signs That Your Stomach Issues May Not Be IBS

Has your digestive system been acting up? Are you experiencing abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation on a regular basis? How would you know if this is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), something more serious, or just something else entirely?

Take a look at some signs and symptoms that indicate a health problem other than IBS. These signs don't all mean you don't have IBS, just that they might be worth looking deeper into. Remember to tell your doctor about any symptoms that you are having on a regular basiswhether they show up on this list or not.


Gas and Bloating Within 90 Minutes of Eating

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Although excessive intestinal gas and bloating are common symptoms in IBS, the timing of the onset of these symptoms can provide you with some valuable information.

It generally takes about 90 minutes for any undigested carbohydrates to arrive at your large intestine, where they are set upon by gut bacteria, resulting in a fermentation process that produces gas.

Therefore, if your gassiness shows up prior to that 90-minute mark, it could indicate that you have more bacteria in your small intestine than you should. This is a condition known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO is diagnosed through the use of hydrogen breath testing and can be treated with select antibiotics.

If your gas and bloating happen within an hour and a half of eating, it doesn't mean that your doctor was wrong about your IBS. It is just that it might be worth your while to be tested for SIBO.


Diarrhea Right After Eating

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Frequent bouts of diarrhea are a hallmark symptom of IBS, as well as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and celiac disease. The simple act of eating can strengthen intestinal contractions leading to diarrhea episodes.

However, there are a couple of not-quite-as-common conditions that would cause one to experience urgent diarrhea right after eating. Your doctor may consider:

Remember that these conditions are relatively rare and it is possible that your diarrhea after eating is simply a symptom of your IBS. But, if reading about these conditions makes you wonder, discuss your thoughts with your doctor.


Pain Unrelated to Bowel Movements

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The official diagnostic criteria (ROME IV) for IBS specifies that abdominal pain and cramping related to bowel movements. Although many patients will tell you that that is not always the case, in IBS there is a sense that their pain and cramping is related to their diarrhea or constipation symptoms.

Any persistent pain symptoms should be brought to the attention of your physician. If you already have an IBS diagnosis but suspect that your pain is not typical of IBS, tell your doctor immediately.


Blood in Stools

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Blood on or in the stool is not a symptom of IBS. Any sign of blood in your toilet following a bowel movement (with the notable exception of menstrual blood) needs to be brought to the attention of your physician as soon as possible.

Although sometimes such blood is only the result of a hemorrhoid, bloody stools can also be a symptom of IBD or colon cancer. Tell your doctor.


Symptoms Set off by Eating Wheat

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For many people, wheat and other gluten-containing foods, can result in IBS-like symptoms. It is recommended that all people who have IBS be tested for the presence of celiac disease. In order for the testing to be conclusive, you need to be eating gluten-containing foods.

Since celiac disease carries a greater risk of other health problems, it is essential to ascertain whether or not you have the disease.

If you do not have celiac disease, IBS symptoms can certainly be set off by eating wheat. You may have a condition known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity or it is entirely possible that you are reacting to the fructans, a type of FODMAPs, that is present in wheat products.


Vomiting on a Regular Basis

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Vomiting is not a symptom of IBS. This is not to say that some people who have IBS don't experience nausea and vomiting from time to time, but this is not because of their IBS. There are a large number of health conditions that can result in the symptom of vomiting.

It is essential that you tell your doctor if you are experiencing vomiting on a frequent basis. Seek immediate medical care if you are experiencing uncontrollable vomiting or are vomiting up blood.

There is a health condition, classified like IBS as a functional gastrointestinal disorder, called cyclic vomiting disorder (CVS). In CVS, a person experiences episodes of vomiting without any other sign of disease.


Unexplained Weight Loss

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Although IBS may cause some weight loss if you are avoiding food for fear of setting off symptoms, significant and unexplained weight loss is not a symptom of IBS and therefore may be indicative of a more serious health problem.

Along the same vein, poor appetite, not explainable by a fear of eating trigger foods, is not a symptom of IBS.


Running Fevers

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IBS should not cause you to run a fever. The possible reasons behind recurrent fevers are infections, inflammatory conditions, autoimmune conditions, and cancer.

If you are experiencing recurrent fevers, you need to bring this to the immediate attention of your doctor.


Deep Persistent Fatigue

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Although many people who have IBS report that they often feel that they lack energy, fatigue is not a symptom of IBS. If you are experiencing deep, persistent feelings of fatigue, let your doctor know.

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Article Sources
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  2. Fakhoury M, Negrulj R, Mooranian A, Al-salami H. Inflammatory bowel disease: clinical aspects and treatments. J Inflamm Res. 2014;7:113-20. doi:10.2147/JIR.S65979

  3. Soares RLS. Irritable Bowl Syndrome, Food Intolerance and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. A New Clinical Challenge. Arq Gastroenterol. 2018;55(4):417-422. doi:10.1590/S0004-2803.201800000-88

  4. Bhandari S, Jha P, Thakur A, Kar A, Gerdes H, Venkatesan T. Cyclic vomiting syndrome: epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment. Clin Auton Res. 2018;28(2):203-209. doi:10.1007/s10286-018-0506-2

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