- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is when a person has abnormal bowel movements, like diarrhea or constipation, along with symptoms like abdominal pain.
- Other common symptoms of IBS include bloating, food sensitivities, nausea, stomach cramps, and acid reflux.
- IBS symptoms are similar to those of other digestive disorders, making proper diagnosis and treatment important.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a digestive disorder that causes symptoms like abdominal pain along with diarrhea or constipation. Approximately 12% of people in the United States have received a diagnosis of IBS. Symptoms of IBS can significantly impact your quality of life, making proper diagnoses and treatment essential.
Learn more about the types of IBS and how a registered dietitian can help with your symptoms. Take our IBS quiz to identify if your symptoms warrant a conversation with your doctor about IBS.
A registered dietitian can help you manage IBS symptoms and provide customized recommendations based on your needs.
Nourish has GI-registered dietitians who can guide you through each phase of the low FODMAP diet while accounting for your personal food preferences and lifestyle. Nourish accepts most major insurance plans, and all visits are conducted virtually from the comfort of your home.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that involves a pattern of abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements or stool patterns. These symptoms do not tend to cause damage to your digestive system like other GI disorders.
IBS is known as a functional GI disorder or a disorder of gut-brain interaction. This means there are disruptions in how your digestive tract and brain work together to help your bowel function.
Four subtypes can occur within an IBS diagnosis, depending on the consistency of your bowel movements. Symptoms and treatments vary across the subtypes, making it important to get a proper diagnosis.
- IBS-D: Mostly diarrhea.
- IBS-C: Mostly constipation.
- IBS-M: Alternates between diarrhea and constipation.
- IBS-U: No irregular stool pattern.
Why is It Important to Identify IBS?
Living with constant abdominal pain and unpredictable bowel movement can get in the way of enjoying your daily activities. People with unmanaged IBS report significant impacts on their quality of life. IBS needs to be properly diagnosed as there are numerous treatment options for the condition that can significantly improve symptoms–but, identifying the problem is the first step.
Also, IBS symptoms can overlap with those of other GI disorders. Part of the diagnosis process for IBS involves ruling out concerns like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which can damage the digestive tract when left untreated.
8 Questions to Help Identify IBS Symptoms
Take our IBS quiz to help you understand your digestive symptoms and why they might be a sign of IBS. If you relate to many of the symptoms on this list, talk to your doctor about diagnosis and treatment options. A registered dietitian through Nourish can help adjust your diet to minimize symptoms if you’ve been diagnosed with IBS.
This IBS quiz is not intended to replace a medical diagnosis and is not a validated tool for diagnosing IBS.
1. Do you experience ongoing abdominal pain and discomfort?
Abdominal pain is one of the hallmark symptoms of IBS. It is generally associated with bowel movements—the abdominal pain is either relieved or worsened when bowel movements occur. It can occur after eating or appear to be unrelated to food intake.
If you experience abdominal pain at least one day per week, mark “yes” for this question.
2. Are your bowel movements irregular or inconsistent?
IBS very often involves irregular bowel movements, meaning constipation, diarrhea, or both. These can occur at a higher or lower frequency than what is typical for you. Bowel movements may also be painful to pass.
Constipation is characterized by formed stool that is lumpy and hard, or it may appear as separate hard lumps, like pebbles. Diarrhea can be fully liquid with no chunks, or it could be a mushy and loose stool.
Keeping a journal of your bowel movement frequency and consistency for two weeks before your doctor’s appointment can be helpful. You can use the Bristol Stool Form Scale to help identify the consistency of your stool in a way that is easy to communicate with your doctor.
Remember that some medications and therapies can contribute to constipation or diarrhea unrelated to IBS.
If you experience irregular bowel movements more than 25% of the time, choose “yes” for this question.
3. Do you regularly experience bloating or a feeling of fullness?
Bloating, or feeling full in your abdomen, can occur in IBS due to digestive dysfunction. More food than usual is digested by gut bacteria, which produces gas and draws water into the large intestine. This creates feelings of bloating or fullness after meals.
It’s important to note that while bloating is a common symptom of IBS, it does not need to be present to diagnose IBS.
If you experience bloating at least one day per week, mark “yes” for this question.
4. Are you sensitive to certain foods?
Many people with IBS notice an increase in symptoms after eating certain foods. FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) are types of carbohydrates present in certain foods. For some people with IBS, eating too many high-FODMAP foods can increase abdominal pain and bloating symptoms.
Foods high in FODMAPs include certain fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and grains, like apples, asparagus, beans, and cow’s milk.
If you’ve identified certain foods that worsen your digestive symptoms, mark “yes.”
5. Do you suffer from anxiety or depression?
IBS is associated with certain mental disorders, like depression and anxiety. Research shows that these mental health concerns can contribute to increased IBS symptoms due to the connection between the brain and the digestive system via nerves.
If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, select “yes” for this question.
6. Do you have difficulty digesting fatty or high-fiber food?
High-fiber foods, particularly those high in insoluble fiber, have been shown to trigger IBS symptoms. Sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, certain vegetables, and wheat bran. High-fat foods, especially greasy or fried foods, can also lead to increased symptoms of IBS.
If your symptoms flare up after eating high-fiber or high-fat foods, mark “yes.”
7. Have you been diagnosed with any other digestive disorder?
Other digestive disorders, like irritable bowel disease (IBD) and celiac disease (CD) have similar symptoms as IBS. Some people confuse these conditions with IBS, which is why it’s important to be evaluated by a doctor for your GI symptoms.
If you answered “yes” to this question, talk to your doctor about how your other digestive disorder may be impacting your symptoms.
8. Do you experience frequent nausea, stomach cramps, and/or acid reflux?
In addition to the primary IBS symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation, many people with IBS also experience frequent nausea and stomach cramps. It’s also common to experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (acid reflux) in addition to having IBS.
If you have these additional symptoms, mark “yes” for this question.
Interpreting Your Results
If you answered “yes” to most of the questions in the IBS quiz, especially numbers one and two, you might want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of having IBS.
IBS is diagnosed when a person reports abdominal pain at least once per week that is associated with changes in the frequency and texture of the stool. In addition, the symptoms must have been present during the last six months. Other digestive conditions are also ruled out prior to diagnosis.
If you experience consistent abdominal pain related to irregular bowel movement consistency and frequency, you may be experiencing IBS. Other GI conditions can cause similar symptoms but require different treatments. Documenting your symptoms and talking to your doctor about your concerns is essential to receiving the most accurate diagnosis.
See a Dietitian for IBS
The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) recommends a short-term trial of a diet low in FODMAPs as a treatment option for IBS. The low FODMAP diet is associated with a reduction in IBS symptoms, specifically bloating and abdominal pain.
This diet has three phases and can be challenging to understand and follow correctly. The ACG states a low FODMAP diet should be supervised by a registered dietitian specializing in gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.
Consider Nourish if you have symptoms of IBS and are unsure how to start with dietary modifications. You’ll be matched with a GI-registered dietitian who will guide you through each phase of the low FODMAP diet while accounting for your personal food preferences and lifestyle. Get started today.
Nourish accepts most major insurance plans, and all visits are conducted virtually from the comfort of your home.
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