Three of the most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are: changes in bowel habits, discomfort and abdominal pain (often described as cramping).
In order to diagnose IBS, the pain and discomfort has to be associated with at least 2 of the following 3 symptoms:
- Stool that is more watery or harder than usual
- Bowel movements appear more or less frequently than usual
- Bowel movements cause or relieve discomfort
Additional symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are
- Pain and discomfort – can occur in various parts of the abdomen. The pain can come and go and last for different periods of time. The pain usually subsides after passing of the stool. Many people describe this type of pain as a colic or spasm, severity of which can range from mild to very severe, with each time being different.
- Diarrhea – watery, loose stools more than three times per day. This symptom appears as a result of increased peristalsis in the digestive tract.
- Constipation – having bowel movements less than three times per week. This causes stools to be dry and hard, making them difficult or even painful to pass.
- Tenesmus - having a feeling of incompleteness after a bowel movement. This symptom usually occurs as a result of constipation when the person has the need to but is unable to pass the stool. Sometimes this symptom may occur as a result of inflammation of the rectal area.
- Passing mucus – which is a clear liquid secreted by intestines that coats tissues of the gastrointestinal tract. This symptom also occurs due to constipation, since the stool is not moving along the bowel but the mucus continues to be secreted.
- Bloating – caused by an abnormal increase in gas production by the gut flora.
People with irritable bowel syndrome also have a higher chance of having gastroesophageal reflux, as well as problems with genitourinary system, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, backache, headache, and psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. Some studies show that as much as 60% of people with IBS also suffer from psychological disorders, usually depression or anxiety.