Understanding IBS Signs & Symptoms

Understanding IBS Symptoms: Common Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

The Tummy Clinic | June 1st, 2023

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms that occur together. Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms include repeated pain in the abdomen and changes in bowel movements, which may be diarrhea, constipation, or both. Signs of irritable bowel syndrome occur without any visible signs of damage or disease in the digestive tract. The cause of IBS is not clear but it is considered to be a dysfunction of the gut- brain- microbiome communication system.

IBS is a fairly common condition. It is estimated to affect up to one in five Canadians. It often starts in young adulthood and is more common in women than men. That said, IBS can affect anyone at any age. Some people with IBS have minor symptoms. However, for others, the symptoms are significant and disrupt daily life.

While IBS doesn’t increase your risk of gastrointestinal cancers, it can still have a significant effect on your life. It is important to understand irritable bowel syndrome symptoms so that any warning signs can be spotted and investigated.

The Tummy Clinic understands that every patient is an individual with unique needs. Our practitioners listen carefully and take the time to understand all of your IBS symptoms to help develop a tailor-made treatment plan for you.

Which are Common Signs of IBS?

There are some common signs of IBS that appear. The most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are pain in your abdomen, often related to your bowel movements, and changes in your bowel movements. Symptoms of IBS aren’t always persistent. They can resolve, but return. Some people do have continuous symptoms.

If you experience any of these common symptoms of IBS lasting longer than a few days, or if symptoms become a common occurrence, it is recommended that you see a doctor:

  • Cramping, especially if it goes away completely after going to the toilet and having a bowel movement
  • Stomach pain while eating, which worsens after finishing a meal
  • Constant or occasional diarrhoea, especially after eating a particular food type
  • Constipation
  • The feeling that you still need to go to the toilet even after a bowel movement
  • Bloating at certain times of the day
  • There are also some less common symptoms that may seem unrelated to IBS but which could actually be underlying symptoms of it. These are:
  • Trouble urinating or frequent urination, and the feeling that you can’t finish
  • Incontinence
  • Dropping energy levels at certain times of the day
  • An increase in flatulence
  • Pain in the lower part of the back

If you experience sudden changes or serious symptoms as listed below, you should also speak with your doctor. These symptoms could indicate a more serious condition, such as colon cancer. The symptoms are:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Persistent pain that isn’t relieved from passing gas or a bowel movement
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting

What Will a Doctor Want to Know?

In order to diagnose IBS, healthcare professionals look for symptoms that have occurred at least three days per month for the last three months. While IBS doesn’t increase your risk of gastrointestinal cancers, it is important to follow your regular screenings. A doctor will check for signs of irritable bowel syndrome and want to know if you have experienced any of the common symptoms of IBS as mentioned above. A doctor will also check with you regarding the regularity of the symptoms and for how long you have been experiencing them. The doctor might advise you to keep a written record of when your symptoms occur. A suggestion: this can also be kept as notes against dates on your phone. The doctor might have you adopt a certain diet or cut out specific food groups for a time to conclusively rule out any food allergies

How is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diagnosed?

For an irritable bowel syndrome diagnosis, your doctor will review your symptoms and signs of IBS, your medical and family history and perform a physical examination. Your doctor will also look for a certain pattern in your symptoms. In some cases, a doctor may order tests to rule out other health problems.

Your doctor will most likely order certain tests such as a blood and stool sample test to rule out any other causes of your symptoms before they feel confident of an irritable bowel syndrome diagnosis.

IBS generally falls under one of these three categories:

  • Constipation-predominant
  • Diarrhoea-predominant
  • Mixed nature


IBS symptoms can present differently in different people. In some women, IBS symptoms may increase around the time of menstruation. While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, the condition is known to aggravate with certain foods and mood disorders. It is important to track your flare-ups to help understand your triggers. People who come to The Tummy Clinic with signs of IBS will have the space and time to discuss their symptoms and will be guided towards the most up to date information that is used to help understand their IBS. The patient-centric clinic is attuned to each patient’s unique needs to address IBS symptoms and treatment. This helps deliver an experience that works with an individual to get the best results. Treatment is aimed at symptom relief and an understanding of your IBS. It is important to know how to manage your IBS. Even though there is no cure for IBS, a patient centric management approach can vastly improve your quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by a variety of symptoms, including cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation, or both. IBS is a chronic condition that you’ll need to manage long term. The cause is not well understood.

There is no definitive test to diagnose IBS. IBS is diagnosed after your doctor has reviewed your symptoms and occasionally ordered tests to rule out other conditions.

Visits at the Tummy Clinic are not covered by OHIP or your provincial health care system, however, most extended healthcare plans cover many aspects of the care you will receive here, such as visits to Naturopathic Doctors, Dietitians, Social Workers or Psychotherapists. Check your benefits package or contact your insurance company for more information.