Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

  • Symptoms

    Although IBS has a number of symptoms, including diarrhea and constipation, one symptom typically predominates Table 01. Sometimes diarrhea is the chief complaint during an irritable bowel attack. In such cases, patients may feel a strong need to relieve themselves many times throughout the day, and then pass loose, watery stools. When constipation predominates, patients may have fewer than three bowel movements a week, and pass small, hard stools after straining on the toilet. Some IBS patients experience alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation.

    Others with irritable bowel feel as though they are not able to void completely. They may also feel full and bloated, and pass excessive amounts of gas. Most patients experience some degree of abdominal pain or discomfort that usually is relieved after a trip to the bathroom.

    Table 1.   Characteristics of IBS

    Diarrhea-predominant IBS
    More than three bowel movements per day
    Loose watery stools
    Urgency more than 25% of the time
    Pain-predominant IBS
    Abdominal pain
    Cramping or aching that is relieved by a bowel movement or flatulence
    Bloating-predominant IBS
    Feeling full or bloated
    Excessive flatulence
    Predominant rectal dissatisfaction
    Feeling of incomplete bowel voiding
    Constipation-predominant IBS
    Fewer than three bowel movements per week
    Lumpy hard stools
    Straining during bowel movements
    IBS with alternating bowel habit
    Alternating episodes of diarrhea and constipation
  • Risk Factors

    About 15% of Americans have IBS, but many do not seek treatment. Although IBS affects both sexes, it is reported more frequently in women. Women with IBS seem to have more symptoms during their menstrual periods, which suggests that reproductive hormones may increase IBS symptoms. Although it has long been thought that anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses were more common in those with IBS, recent studies have found this to be untrue. The psychological distress doctors assumed was the cause of IBS actually appears to be the result of coping with the overwhelming negative impact IBS can have on one's life. Reliable research now suggests IBS to be strictly a physical problem that is sometimes accompanied by a psychosocial component.

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