Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often causes pain, which may worsen before or during a bowel movement. The pain may feel similar to abdominal cramps. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms.
IBS is a group of symptoms that occur together. They include abdominal pain and changes in bowel movements.
About 3 out of 4 people with IBS have continuous or ongoing pain. People also often describe their pain level as determining their condition’s severity.
This article reviews IBS pain, how it may feel, its causes, and more.
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Pain often occurs when a person has a bowel movement. Changes in bowel movements may include diarrhea, constipation, or both.
Other symptoms can include:
- feeling as though a bowel movement is not complete (tenesmus)
- whitish mucus on stool
- abdominal bloating (which can also cause pain)
Symptoms typically occur for
People with IBS may describe their stomach pain as:
Learn more about common causes of abdominal pain.
One theory is that functional gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS may occur due to a miscommunication or problem with the communication between the gut and the brain. The issue can cause food to move too quickly or slowly through a person’s system, resulting in IBS symptoms.
Other possible causes or risk factors for IBS may include:
- early life sexual or physical abuse
- bacterial infection in the digestive tract
- mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression
- food sensitivities or intolerances
- overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines
- Antidepressants: Examples include tricyclic antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to help treat pain or depression.
- Antidiarrheal medications: One example of this is loperamide (Imodium).
- Fiber supplements: These can help with constipation.
- Antispasmodic agents: These are a type of muscle relaxer that may help with pain or diarrhea.
- Lubiprostone (Amitiza): This is a prescription medication for treating IBS that occurs with constipation.
- Counseling: This can help a person address any underlying mental health conditions that may be causing IBS.
- Stress relief: Stress-management techniques such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or meditation can help people address underlying stress.
Learn more about treatment options for IBS.
A healthcare professional may recommend some steps a person can take at home to help manage IBS symptoms. These
- dietary changes, such as eating more fiber, avoiding gluten, and following a low FODMAP diet
- exercise or regular physical activity
- getting enough sleep
- avoiding or reducing stressful events
- using probiotics
Several conditions can affect a person’s digestive tract.
However, unlike IBS, IBD is an autoimmune disease associated with systemic inflammation that damages the digestive tract over time. Left untreated, IBD can worsen, while IBS does not cause worsening symptoms with or without treatment.
Other conditions that have similar symptoms to IBS include:
- dyspepsia, which is pain in the abdomen just below the rib cage
- celiac disease
- acid reflux disorders
A person who experiences pain combined with diarrhea or constipation for
A person undergoing IBS treatments and making lifestyle changes may want to speak with a healthcare professional if their symptoms worsen or do not ease with treatment. A doctor may be able to recommend different therapies that may work better for them.
If a person has another underlying condition, such as depression or anxiety, they should regularly work with a therapist or doctor for their treatment.
IBS has links with abdominal pain and changes in a person’s bowel movements. A person may experience diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both.
People typically experience pain when they have a bowel movement, often in the lower abdomen.
There is no cure for IBS. However, treatments can help a person manage symptoms. Treatments may include medications and lifestyle changes along with other therapies, such as CBT.
Several conditions can cause similar symptoms, so a person should consider talking with a healthcare professional for a diagnosis.