How Do You Know You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Reviewed on 10/19/2022
Woman with IBS holding her stomach in pain
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms vary depending on the type, which includes IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D), IBS with constipation (IBS-C), and BS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M).

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the digestive system causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, bowel habit changes, excess gas, bloating (abdominal distention), abdominal cramping, and food intolerances. 

Irritable bowel syndrome is a “functional” disorder because it is a problem with the movement (motility) of the digestive tract and not result of damage to the tissues of the digestive system. 

You may have irritable bowel syndrome if you have symptoms such as: 

  • Changes in bowel movements, depending on the type of IBS 
  • Abdominal pain, often associated with bowel movements
  • Bloating
  • Feeling as if a bowel movement is incomplete
  • Whitish mucus in the stool

People with irritable bowel syndrome often experience flare-ups of symptoms, which usually last between 2 to 4 days before improving or going away. 

Other Symptoms Associated with IBS

Women with IBS may notice symptoms increase during their periods.

Irritable bowel syndrome can also cause symptoms in other parts of the body, such as:

Irritable bowel syndrome is not the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which refers to separate conditions including Crohn’s disease and colitis.

How Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diagnosed?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is diagnosed with a patient history and a physical examination. Tests used to help diagnose IBS or rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms may include: 

  • Blood tests 
  • Stool tests 
  • Hydrogen breath test 
  • Upper GI endoscopy with a biopsy 
  • Colonoscopy 

What Is the Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) involves diet and lifestyle changes, medications, probiotics, and therapy. 

Dietary changes to treat irritable bowel syndrome may include:

  • Adding more fiber to the diet
  • Avoiding gluten
  • Following a low FODMAP diet
    • FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols, which are types of carbohydrates some people may have difficulty digesting
  • Taking probiotics 

Lifestyle changes for IBS may include:

  • Increasing physical activity
  • Getting sufficient sleep
  • Stress reduction techniques 

Medications used to treat irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D) may include:

Medications used to treat irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) may include:

Medications that may be used to treat abdominal pain associated with irritable bowel syndrome also include:

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Reviewed on 10/19/2022

Image source: iStock Images