An attack of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can happen at any time. It may seem to have no rhyme or reason. Symptoms may even change from time to time.
But IBS does follow patterns recognizable by a doctor.
It may help to keep a Symptom Diary so your doctor can see how your symptoms change over time and in relation to diet, stress, and other factors.
Pain or Discomfort is Key
Abdominal pain is the key symptom of IBS and is often relieved with the passing of a bowel movement (defecation). There are many causes for abdominal pain, but in IBS, the pain or discomfort is connected with a change in bowel habits.
Symptoms Won’t Stop
Everyone suffers from bowel changes now and then. However, for those with IBS the symptoms are more severe, or occur more often. They can be constant or keep coming back.
Some or all of IBS symptoms can occur at the same time. Some symptoms may be worse than others. Symptoms can vary and sometimes seem contradictory. Diarrhea may alternate with constipation.
In women, gut function appears to be influenced by changes in the level of female hormones. IBS symptoms can become worse at certain times of the menstrual cycle. Healthy women and women with IBS report more GI symptoms, such as pain and bloating, just prior and at the time of menses. But it is reported as more intense in women with IBS.
Symptoms are Recognizable
The typical features of IBS are generally recognizable by a healthcare physician. Usually the physician will examine the abdomen of a patient with IBS and it will be normal or have only tenderness. The most important first step is to confidently recognize the diagnosis of IBS and remove the suspicion of other diseases.
IBS affects men and women of all ages. It also occurs in children.