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Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms

Lesley Dobson / 09 January 2015

Read our guide to spotting the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Rope knot symbolising stomach cramps
Irrittable bowel symptoms can include bloating, swollen abdomen, and cramping

If your digestive system is ruling – or even ruining – your life, and you haven’t been able to find out what is causing the problem, it’s possible that you may have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS.

This is the term used by doctors to describe a collection of symptoms that involves your colon or large intestine. About one third of us are affected by IBS at some stage, and around one in ten people find the symptoms so troubling that they see their GP for help.

IBS symptoms vary from one person to another, but may include:

  • Pain and/or spasms in your abdomen
  • Diarrhoea and/or constipation, and a change to your body’s normal timetable for needing the loo
  • Bloated, swollen abdomen
  • Lots of rumbling noises in your abdomen
  • Having and passing an excessive amount of wind
  • Urgently needing to go to the loo to empty your bowels
  • Feeling that you haven’t totally emptied your bowels after having a poo
  • A sharp pain low down in your rectum
  • Mucus coming out of your bottom

IBS symptoms tend to flare up and then die back again, so you may not have them all the time

Other symptoms of IBS

Thesec can include problems passing urine – urgently needing to go, and/or feeling that you haven’t completely emptied your bladder. (In men problems urinating can also be a sign of prostate cancer and shouldn’t be ignored.) 

See your GP!

If you are bleeding from your bottom, or have blood in your poo, it could be an indication of a more serious condition. Make an appointment to see your GP as soon as you can. Bleeding isn’t one of the symptoms of IBS.

Other possible IBS symptoms

You may also find that you have symptoms in different parts of your body. These may include:

  • headaches and dizziness
  • backache 
  • muscle and joint pains
  •  ringing in your ears 
  • nausea 
  • lack of energy 
  • being short of breath 
  • having anxiety and depression

The IBS Network states that people with other illnesses that don’t have a medical explanation have reported similar symptoms. These include:

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,
  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Functional Dyspepsia 

One possible explanation is that they may all be connected to a change in sensitivity affecting both the mind and body.

The symptoms of Fibromyalgia, for instance, include fatigue and wide-ranging pain, and extreme sensitivity to pain, with no obvious cause. One theory is that people who have this condition have experienced changes in the way their central nervous system processes the body’s pain messages.

IBS is most likely to develop between the ages of 20 to 30, and about twice as many women as women have it. This condition isn’t the same for everyone - some people have more severe symptoms than others. The symptoms can come and go, lasting for just a few days sometimes, or for months at a time.

Unfortunately there is no cure for IBS at the moment, but the symptoms can improve with time.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.