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8 Scary Signs And Symptoms Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

by Ileana Paules-Bronet
Ileana is a writer on the Original Content team. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

There’s nothing worse than sitting quietly doing your work and hearing your stomach make a terrible noise.

When you realize your stomach isn’t having a good day, it leaves you feeling all out of sorts.

Everyone gets a fussy stomach from time to time: maybe you ate something your body didn’t agree with, maybe you came down with a bug, or maybe you’re just feeling a little off.

Having an upset stomach is never fun — it leaves you running to the bathroom and popping antacids — but do you ever worry that your sensitive stomach might be something more?

Unfortunately, around 10 to 15 percent of the world’s population suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder affecting the large intestine.

In the United States alone, 25 to 45 million people suffer from IBS, and two-thirds of those people are women.

According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, IBS can be unpredictable, though it’s easily treatable if you get a diagnosis from your doctor.

Here’s what you need to know about the signs and symptoms of IBS!

Thumbnail Source: Public Domain Pictures / Wikimedia

What Is IBS?

more than a fussy stomach
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While some people really do just have fussy stomachs, there’s a chance that your consistent stomach pain and discomfort is actually irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

According to the Mayo Clinic, IBS is a large-intestine (colon) disorder that’s fairly common.

Most people with IBS don’t have very severe symptoms. Unfortunately, it is a chronic disease that requires life-long management.

What Causes IBS?

signs of ibs
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Although there’s no known single cause of IBS, there are a few factors that can impact it.

For most people, our intestinal muscles contract and relax to move food through your intestines.

But for people with IBS, these contractions may be stronger or weaker, which can cause many of the symptoms of IBS.

People with IBS may also have gastrointestinal system abnormalities, explains the Mayo Clinic.

This means that your brain may not communicate with your intestines correctly, which can cause your body to overreact to normal digestive processes — this can create pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

Signs And Symptoms Of IBS
IBS Symptom #1: Gas And Bloating

gas and bloating
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Gas and bloating are two very common symptoms of IBS.

Most people experience gas and bloating pretty regularly, so what makes it specific to IBS?

Medicine Net explains that gas and bloating can be IBS symptoms when they get unusually severe.

If you’re experiencing an unusual amount of gas or you’re bloated more regularly, it might be a sign of IBS.

IBS Symptom #2: Alternating Bouts Of Diarrhea And Constipation

diarrhea constipation
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One specific sign of IBS is having diarrhea and constipation in alternating bouts.

Having diarrhea, which is usually classified as loose, watery stool, is not usually followed by constipation, which is usually classified as lumpy, hard stool.

WebMD explains that while it’s unusual for most people to have these alternating bowel movements, people with IBS will find that these two types of poops occur after one another.

IBS Symptom #3: Your Whole Abdomen Hurts

painful abdomen
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According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, one of the key symptoms of IBS is abdominal pain, which is often relieved upon the passing of a bowel movement.

Although there are a lot of causes of abdominal pain for most people, when abdominal pain is caused by IBS, it will almost always be connected to your bowel movements.

With IBS, the pain will often not be centralized to one location, but instead will hurt all over — it might feel like discomfort, or a stomachache with no source, intense cramping, or a combination of all of these.

IBS Symptom #4: Clear Or White Mucus In Stool

mucus in stool
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Another big IBS symptom is unusual-looking bowel movements. If you ever see clear or white mucus in your stool, it could be a sign of IBS.

According to Family Doctor, everyone’s IBS symptoms are different, so not everyone with IBS will have mucus in their stool.

But if you do find mucus in your poop, talk to your doctor about the possibility of IBS.

IBS Symptom #5: Symptoms Last At Least 12 Weeks

12 week symptoms
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According to WebMD, the diagnostic guideline for IBS says that in order to be diagnosed with IBS, you technically need to exhibit symptoms for at least 12 weeks in the last six months.

Although this is the official guideline, many doctors don’t follow the requirement, so if you notice that you’re exhibiting some or many of the symptoms of IBS, you should talk to your doctor about it.

Additionally, if you start noticing symptoms, it might be worth it to start a symptom journal to keep track of the time you’ve been experiencing them.

IBS Symptom #6: Multiple Symptoms At Once

multiple symptoms at once
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One of the requirements for being diagnosed with IBS is having two of the following three symptoms at the same time:

  1. Pooping relieves the pain and discomfort
  2. Your bowel movement frequency changes
  3. Your poop looks different

Additionally, WebMD explains that you may have a variety of other symptoms, including mucus in the stool, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, abdominal cramping and pain.

IBS Symptom #7: Your Pain Can't Be Explained By Another Health Condition

allergy test
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If you’ve read through all these symptoms and think they sound familiar, that’s because IBS symptoms mimic those of other digestion disorders as well.

Other causes of your discomfort may be allergies, lactose intolerance, celiac disease, and other intolerances.

If your doctor has ruled out these other disorders, Medicine Plus explains that they will then consider IBS as the cause of your discomfort.

IBS Symptom #8: You Don't Have Any Urgent Red-Flag Symptoms

high fever
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Although IBS is uncomfortable, it is not a disorder that requires you to seek urgent care.

The Mayo Clinic explains that if you have any of these red flag symptoms, what you’re experiencing may be something much more serious than IBS:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Pain that occurs or worsens overnight
  • High fever
  • Anemia

If you have any of these symptoms, you should seek medical care, as these may be signs of something more serious, like a gastrointestinal disease, appendicitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or cancer.

If you think you might have IBS, there’s no reason for you to continue suffering through it.

Although there’s no cure for IBS, there are a variety of ways to treat it that can ease the symptoms and make living with IBS more manageable.

Doctors are the only ones who can diagnose IBS, so visit your primary care physician if you think you might have it.

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