Irritable bowel syndrome history and symptoms

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] ; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Sudarshana Datta, MD [2]


The diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) relies on recognition of gastrointestinal symptoms that wax and wane and are exacerbated by psychosocial stress. Diagnosis of IBS is based on clinical symptoms and elimination of other organic gastrointestinal diseases. This is due to lack of definitive radiological or laboratory diagnostic tests in IBS. The hallmark of IBS is abdominal pain. A positive history of stress, anxiety, depression, panic disorders, gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and acute GI infection predispose individuals to IBS. The most common symptoms of IBS include presence of abdominal pain and alteration of bowel habits. Less common symptoms of IBS include flatulence and upper GI symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, dyspepsia and vomiting


Common symptoms

Common symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, altered bowel habits, bloating and flatulence.

Abdominal pain (major prerequisite for IBS) Site: Variable location

Onset: Sudden/Insidious

Character: Episodic and crampy with a background of constant pain

Relieving factors: Relief on defecation

Aggravating factors: Eating, emotional stress, premenstrual and menstrual phases

Associated factors: Change in frequency or form of stool

Timing: Pain is usually present during waking hours. Nocturnal symptoms are usually present only in severe IBS

Severity: Variable (varies from mild to severe enough to impair quality of life)

Altered bowel habits Altered bowel habits usually present as diarrhea alternating with constipation. One of these tends to be the predominant symptom in the patient. [12][13][13]
Constipation predominant IBS: <3 bowel movements per week Diarrhea predominant IBS: >3 bowel movements per day [14][16]Patients have:
  1. Loose stools in small volumes, aggravated by eating or emotional stress
  2. Stool volume of <200 ml
  3. Stool accompanied by mucus passage
  4. Absence of nocturnal diarrhea
  5. Absence of bleeding
  6. Absence of weight loss or malabsorption
Gas and flatulence

Less common symptoms

Upper gastrointestinal symptoms One fourth of all IBS patients complain of heartburn, nausea, dyspepsia and vomiting
Lower gastrointestinal symptoms


Psychosocial history

Past Medical history

Menstrual history

Family history

History of allergies

Medication history


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