Constipation is one of the symptoms often associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The key symptom of IBS is abdominal pain. The pain is associated with a change in the frequency or consistency of bowel habit. The altered bowel habit may be chronic or recurrent constipation, or diarrhea. Some people have both constipation and diarrhea, just at different times. Bloating or distention in the abdomen is also common.
The main bowel habit can change over time. In addition, symptom occurrence can fluctuate over time. There can be periods when symptoms flare-up as well as periods when they diminish or disappear.
Constipation means different things to different people – even doctors. Doctors usually define constipation as hard pellet-like stools. Individuals usually think of constipation as…
- infrequent stools
- difficulty or straining at stools
- feeling of being unable to completely empty during a bowel movement, or the sensation of wanting to go but not being able to.
There’s a Difference between IBS and Chronic Functional Constipation
People with IBS have abdominal discomfort or pain associated with their bowel habit. They may have symptoms that overlap with functional constipation. People with functional constipation may not have the abdominal pain of IBS. Or they may have less pain than with IBS. They would not have intervals of normal bowel habit and diarrhea with loose stools that can occur in IBS.
IBS with constipation is sometimes referred to as IBS-C or constipation-predominant IBS.
IBS in the Real World
In 2002, we contacted a random sample from our IFFGD database of U.S. adults diagnosed with IBS. A total of 350 people took part in telephone interviews. The information gathered reflects the tremendous burden IBS can impose upon a large proportion of sufferers.
Constipation-specific symptoms were varied and frequent. The most bothersome symptoms reported were…
- abdominal pain,
- infrequent stools,
- bloating and/or gas.
The constipation sufferers reported episodes of gas, bloating, and abdominal pain each as occurring on average over 200 times per year. Episodes of straining, infrequent stool, unable to completely empty, and nausea were reported as occurring between 100 to 150 times per year.
Living with IBS – Personal Stories
I am a 47 year old woman whose IBS started when I was 28. It was first diagnosed as constipation and then IBS. I am also lactose intolerant which doesn’t help at all. I’m prescribed a drug for constipation but two pills a day cause me to almost have a bowel movement accident and one a day doesn’t seem to be enough. When I do have a bowel movement I have to go at least three times before feeling empty.
Diet isn’t always the answer. I have cut myself off from almost all foods and only a few plain foods will not irritate my stomach. Sometimes I’m afraid to eat period. I am afraid to go out; I automatically get a ‘nervous’ stomach. I tried taking anxiety and depression medication, but had to find a better way. I have a certain routine for traveling (flying). I clean my system the day before and will not eat afterward until I reach my destination. I am lucky to have such a supportive significant other.
– From our Personal Stories