Important note: this information has not been written by a doctor, and anyone with bowel symptoms should seek medical advice. IBS cannot be self-diagnosed.
IBS symptoms vary from person to person. Typical IBS symptoms include:
- alternating diarrhea and constipation
- excess gas or wind
- abdominal pain
- back pain.
You do not need to have all these symptoms to be diagnosed with IBS, but most people will have some form of stomach problem and at least one or two accompanying symptoms.
Some IBS sufferers find that they have more diarrhea than constipation, while others have more constipation than diarrhea. These two types of IBS are called diarrhea-predominant IBS (or IBS-D) and constipation-predominant IBS (or IBS-C). Other sufferers may alternate between diarrhea and constipation and find it hard to strike a balance between the two.
Your symptoms may have come on gradually over a period of time, or may have been set off after a specific event. It is quite common for people to notice IBS symptoms after a bout of food poisoning, for example, and also after surgery - classic cases include symptoms appearing after a hysterectomy or removal of your gallbladder.
You may also notice symptoms during a particularly stressful time in your life, such as moving house or an emotional upset such as a bereavement. If these symptoms do not disappear after the stress has gone, then you may be diagnosed with IBS.
IBS does not usually cause bleeding or blood in the stool, but some gastrointestinal disorders do cause bleeding and it’s very important that any bleeding is checked out by a doctor. It’s possible to have bleeding with hemorrhoids that may be the result of IBS; any symptoms of bleeding should be discussed with your medical professional.
IBS can affect people of all ages, including young children and elderly people. It tends to affect more women than men in Western countries, although in Eastern countries such as India more men than women seem to suffer - or at least, more men than women tend to seek treatment. These gender differences may be due to hormonal effects, or they may just be the result of different attitudes to health in different cultures, such as a 'macho' attitude to health problems in the West creating a reluctance to talk about bowel symptoms.
In countries such as the UK and US, as many as 10 to 15% of the population are diagnosed with IBS at some point in their lives, and doctors suspect that more people suffer in silence. IBS has been cited as the second leading cause of absenteeism, second only to the common cold.
As well as the purely physical symptoms, IBS sufferers often develop psychological problems, particularly anxiety or depression. This is often due to the fact that IBS can be very painful, can be horrendously embarrassing, and can continue for many years.
You may find that you are unwilling to leave the house due to anxiety over finding a toilet in time. IBS may also curtail your social life, and this in itself can lead to depression.