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4 Common Symptoms of IBS

Think you know irritable bowel syndrome? This widespread chronic disease is responsible for a host of symptoms, some of which might surprise you. Take a look at 4 of the biggest signs you’re dealing with IBS. 

IBS is a disorder of the intestines which causes a range of painful and uncomfortable symptoms. As the cause for the disease hasn’t been pinned down yet, a diagnosis often relies on an assessment of a patient’s symptoms – here are just a few to look out for.

Diarrhoea and constipation

These are the symptoms most commonly associated with IBS, and they may be experienced independently or in rotation with each other. Diarrhoea-predominant IBS afflicts around a third of those with the condition, and a study showed that those with this form of IBS experienced more than twice the number of bowel movements than people without IBS. These participants had around 12 bowel movements every week, so if this is a number you’ve found yourself hitting regularly, it could be worth looking into IBS. Accelerated bowel transit – where people have a sudden, overwhelming urge to “drop the kids off at the pool” – can be a common experience for those with diarrhoea-predominant IBS and it can be the cause of stress and embarrassment, particularly in work or social settings.

Constipation-predominant IBS, on the other hand, is even more common than its counterpart, affecting a whopping 50% of IBS sufferers. It occurs when someone is having under 3 bowel movements per week. If this is happening to you chronically, it could be IBS. Many people with this symptom also find they have the feeling of an incomplete bowel movement. Some people may experience both diarrhoea and constipation in alternating cycles – in fact, this combination afflicts around a fifth of IBS sufferers, and often causes chronic stomach pain.

Stomach pain

Stomach pain is one of the more common signs of IBS, and it all comes down to the gut-brain link. With hormonal imbalances and poor signals between the gut and brain, many IBS sufferers will experience pain – especially lower abdominal pain as the muscles in the digestive tract tense. This pain often subsides after a bowel movement, but some find that consuming an anti-inflammatory diet reduces their symptoms.

Food intolerance

One of the more surprising symptoms of IBS has to do with the food we put on our plates. Up to a whopping 70% of those with IBS have foods that worsen their symptoms, with around 2 thirds choosing to avoid such foods in order to prevent flair-ups. While these foods are not believed to be allergies, research shows that they can in fact cause IBS symptoms to worsen. The common culprits include foods known as FODMAPS – these include foods high in fructose and lactose – along with foods high in gluten.


Another lesser-known, but equally distressing, symptom of IBS is fatigue. Over 50% of people with IBS experience this symptom, along with many having low energy and stamina. Research shows that the more intense their other IBS symptoms were, the more fatigued they were likely to be. IBS is also associated with a higher rate of insomnia, with studies showing sleep quality in general is inadequate for many people living with the condition. One study found that despite getting an extra hour of sleep than those without the condition, IBS sufferers still felt less rested than their counterparts.

Other signs include:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Low mood
  • Change in bowel movements – including colour and texture.
  • Mood disorders like depression – these are often linked with IBS.

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