Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and 11 Symptoms You Need to Know

IBS Symptoms

IBS Facts:

IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common gastrointestinal disorder affecting 7-21% worldwide. In the United States, around 12 percent of adults show IBS symptoms.

Women are twice as likely to have IBS than men. Along with people under the age of 50.

is a common disorder. It is classified as a group of symptoms and not a disease. IBS affects the large intestine causing multiple signs and symptoms.

In addition, IBS is also considered a functional disorder. A dysfunctional digestive system causes the symptoms. It is not due to any chronic inflammation, growth, or permanent damage along the gastrointestinal tract. This disrupts the normal movement of food through the GI tract, causing related symptoms.

Causes:

The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not completely understood. However, there are instances wherein it develops after a severe bout of infectious diarrhea or trauma. Although in many cases, there is no specific incident.

Genetics, unpleasant life experiences, and some mental health conditions may place someone at risk for IBS. Other factors that may cause or exacerbate IBS symptoms include stress and menstrual cycle hormones. Along with smoking, diet, and other lifestyle factors.

Types:

  • IBS with constipation or IBS-C
  • IBS with diarrhea or IBS-D
  • Alternating-type IBS (IBS-A) or Mixed-type IBS (IBS-M)

Diagnosis:

There are no available tests that can effectively diagnose IBS. Doctors are most likely to review and assess a patient’s medical history first.

To rule out other possible causes, physical exams, and other tests may be sone.

If other conditions are ruled out, doctors will use sets of diagnostic criteria to determine if it is IBS.

  • Rome Criteria – Abdominal pain or discomfort is present for at least one day a week in the last three months.  Consequently, pain and discomfort must meet at least two factors. First, Pain/discomfort is related to defecation. Second, there is a change in the frequency of bowel movements. Third, there is a change in stool consistency.
  • Manning Criteria – A diagnostic algorithm that focuses on lists of symptoms that a physician can ask the patient. The more symptoms that apply, the greater the likelihood of IBS.

Treatment:

Focus on relieving symptoms directed to the gut and psyche can be done. This can help treat IBS. Prevention and treatment may involve a simple change in daily habits.

Apart from this, managing stressful situations, a healthier diet, and regular exercise can also help.

Signs and symptoms:

IBS can cause different symptoms in different people. Multiple factors, like physical and psychological, are also thought to be closely linked in its development.

Some of the signs and symptom to look out for include the following:

1. Pain and cramping

Pain and cramps in the abdominal area are hallmark symptoms of IBS. Three out of four people with IBS report continuous or frequent abdominal pain.

The gut and the brain work together to control digestion. This involves hormones, nerves, and signals from the good bacteria released by the gut. Disruption results in uncoordinated and painful tension in the muscles of the digestive tract.

Spasms, cramps, dull aches, and overall general stomach discomfort describe abdominal pain.

In addition to this, tenderness can also be experienced when the stomach is touched. For some people, the pain may worsen soon after eating.

The pain may range from mild to severe and crippling. IBS pain can occur throughout the abdomen. This is the area of the torso from the chest down to the pelvis, where the main digestive organs are located.

The location of the pain may vary from person to person. It should be noted that the overall location of the abdominal pain can help discern IBS from other digestive issues.

2. Joint pain

Joint pain is generally not a common symptom of IBS.

There is no clear link yet between IBS and joint pains.

Nevertheless, scientists have several theories as to why IBS can give rise to joint pains. Some say it may be due to the rise of inflammation within the body.

In addition to that, it is suggested that pain sensitivity and perception are heightened especially in constipation- dominant IBS.

Another theory centers on constipation-dominant IBS and its effect on the immune system.

Constipation keeps fecal matter to stay longer in the colon. This could allow toxins that should have been excreted to get reabsorbed into the body.

Furthermore, it could also prompt the immune system to see these as unwelcome pathogens. The body would then fight the seen invaders.

The repair process at other points of the body would be turned off as well. And one such area might be the joints.

An activated immune system releases inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. These will circulate throughout the body and may cause aches and pains.

3. Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a key symptom of IBS (IBS-D). It occurs when a person passes loose or watery stool.

People with IBS often experience diarrhea together with abdominal cramping and feelings of urgency. The urgency often causes worries over experiencing bathroom accidents.

Bowel movements may occur three or more times per day.

In a normal bowel movement, the gut contracts and relaxes in a rhythmic way. IBS disrupts this rhythm. As a result, diarrhea makes the muscles in the gut contract more than they need to.

This rapid contraction of the intestines results in faster stool movement. It gives the intestine less time to absorb water from the digested matter. The result is loose or watery stools.  

It should be noted that IBS-D can affect any gender and any age group, but young females are more commonly affected than males or older people.

4. Constipation

Constipation is another symptom of irritable bowel syndrome.

Constipation-dominant IBS (IBS-C) is the most common type, affecting nearly 50% of people with IBS.

Constipation refers to difficulty in passing stool. If there are fewer than three bowel movements in a week, constipation is present.

Hard, dry and lumpy stools are also common in a person with constipation.

IBS causes constipation because it prevents the gut muscles from contracting as much as they should. There is an obvious disruption in the signals between the brain and the gut. This causes the speeding up or slowing down of stool transit time.

Therefore, when it slows down, the bowels absorb more water from stool which makes it difficult to pass.

5. Alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation

No consistent bowel movement is another symptom of IBS. Often the shift between diarrhea and constipation comes quickly. The changing nature of this symptom makes it difficult to find strategies that bring symptom relief.

These two extreme symptoms may be experienced over the course of a few months, weeks or within a single day.  Around 20% of those with IBS are affected by alternating-type IBS (IBS-A). It is also known as mixed-type IBS (IBS-M).

Mixed-type IBS often involves chronic abdominal pain. This shift between diarrhea and constipation is often more severe than the others. It has more frequent and intense symptoms.

This symptom varies from person to person. As a result, it will require a more personal course of treatment rather than a generalized treatment.

6. Food intolerance

People with IBS are sensitive to certain food although they have no reported allergies. About 70% of people with IBS report that particular foods can trigger IBS episodes.

Food intolerance occurs when the gut becomes abnormally sensitive and reacts to certain foods. These foods can trigger spasms and the stomach to swell with gas or fluid.

Certain carbs called FODMAPs are a problem for people with IBS. FODMAP is a term used to classify groups of carbohydrates that can trigger digestive issues. It stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. Sensitive people should avoid this group of fermentable carbs to prevent gut symptoms.

Research shows that foods with low carbs can greatly improve this symptom.

FODMAPs increase the amount of water that goes into the gut and the bacteria in the gut may cause them to ferment. This can lead to an increase in intestinal gas.

It is still unclear why certain foods trigger IBS symptoms. It is best to remember, though, that IBS food intolerance doesn’t automatically equate to food allergies.

7. Gas and bloating

Changes in the flow of digestion tend to cause more gas production in the gut. This can result in an uncomfortable bloating.  Gas and bloating are among the most common and frustrating symptoms of IBS.

Bloating causes the abdomen to feel full and appear rounder than its usual shape. The abdomen may appear flat in the morning but become progressively distended as the day goes on. The distention tends to reduce after lying down, or overnight.

IBS may cause difficulties in passing gas due to problems with how gut nerves and muscles work. The intestine can also become extra sensitive which tends to cause pain even when there is a normal amount of gas present.

8. Fatigue/difficulty in sleeping

Half of the people with IBS report feeling fatigued. This is because fatigue and IBS frequently coexist. Separately, IBS and fatigue already present challenges on their own. Combining both can be very debilitating and can greatly impact a person’s quality of life.

More women in the United States are diagnosed with IBS and fatigue rather than men.

Fatigue is when a person feels extreme tiredness even if they had an ample amount of rest and sleep. It is not easy to shake off the tiredness.

IBS is also linked with difficulty in sleeping or insomnia.

IBS affects the ability of the small intestine to absorb essential vitamins and minerals into the body. Without these, energy levels will decrease. 

In addition, the gut contains billions of good bacteria that produce nutrients that help convert food into energy. A disruption in the process severely decreases available energy for the body.

9. Stress and brain fog

The brain and the gut constantly communicate with each other. Sometimes these two overshare. This oversharing affects the brains of people with IBS.

Experts further explain that IBS can cause psychological symptoms like stress. The nerves endings along the pathway between the brain and the gut become extremely sensitive.

Stress is a term used to describe the normal responses in the body needed for health and survival. Other symptoms of IBS can also add to the stress a patient may feel.

For instance, some people avoid certain social situations for fear of a bathroom accident due to IBS.

Communication between the gut and the brain is ongoing and intimate. Bad gut health affects the brain and can cause symptoms of brain fog. Mental confusion, impaired judgment, and trouble concentrating are common with brain fog.

10. Anxiety and depression

The most common mental ailment people with irritable bowel syndrome have is a generalized anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is a mental state of extreme apprehension and worry. It may lead to physical effects on the body. The recurrent, unpredictable and unpleasant effects of IBS at inconvenient times also cause anxiety.

Depression often results when other IBS symptoms cause a level of distress akin to it.

Along with too much worrying over other IBS symptoms makes people try to avoid social interactions. This results in a loss of interest in their social lives or in activities that they like.

These symptoms are a result of a disturbance in the brain and gut axis. This is the communication line that exists between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract. If the gut is unhappy or irritated, it will affect the signals being sent to the brain and can affect mood.

11. Mucus in the stool

It is normal to pass a small amount of mucus together with stool.

But people with IBS may notice increased amounts of mucus in their stool. Mucus in the stool is a common symptom of IBS.

Mucous membranes found throughout the body produce mucus. Mucus serves to protect and moisten various body system linings including the digestive tract. It can be white, yellow or green. Those found in the stool are often white.

Mucus in the stool is more common in people with diarrhea-predominant IBS than those with constipation-predominant IBS. The colon spasms with IBS. This pushes the food too quickly through the digestive system which results in watery or mucus-filled diarrhea.