Ultimate Guide to IBS Symptoms and How to Manage Them

Ultimate Guide to IBS Symptoms and How to Manage Them

7 minute read time

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a highly prevalent gastrointestinal disorder that affects about 10-15% of the US population, with women twice as likely as men to report having IBS symptoms.

While the exact cause of IBS is currently unknown, IBS flare-ups can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, causing them to miss school, work or reduce their social activities.

In this article, we look at the bigger picture behind Irritable Bowel Syndrome, providing you with an ultimate guide on the potential causes, risk factors and general IBS symptoms and potential ways to manage them.

What Causes IBS?

Stress, diet, and lifestyle all play a role in people experiencing IBS symptoms although at present there is no scientific consensus on a definitive cause for developing IBS. Similarly, it isn’t certain why IBS flare-ups are more common in people in their 20s and 30s or why it can manifest differently from person to person. However, factors that seem to play a role include:

  1. Muscle Contractions in the Intestine. According to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), our intestines are lined with layers of muscle which contract to move food through the digestive tract. Strong muscle contractions which last longer than usual can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. Weak muscle contractions on the other hand can slow the passage of food and can lead to constipation.

What are the risk factors for developing IBS?

As one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders, approximately 1 in 20 people experience symptoms of IBS. But some people are more likely to experience IBS symptoms, particularly if they are:

  1. Young. Although IBS does and can affect people of all ages, including children, the most common age for IBS sufferers is between 20-30 years old.
  2. Female. In the US, IBS is more common among women, with 2 in every 3 people experiencing IBS being female. Existing research points to potential causes linked to the effects of estrogen and progesterone on gut function as well as psychological characteristics such as stress reactivity in women which are likely to be related to bowel function. The link between IBS flare-ups and the menstrual cycle is not set in stone, yet studies have shown that women with IBS commonly report bowel symptoms during their menstruation period.
  3. Known to have a family history of IBS. In previous studies IBS patients frequently reported a positive family history of IBS. However, it remains unclear whether the clustering of IBS in families is due to shared conditions and environmental risk factors among family members, due to shared genes or a mix of both.
  4. Experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Traumatic and stressful past experiences can also be a catalyst for IBS attacks. According to recent research this link is bidirectional, meaning the state of our mental health can impact on the well-functioning of our gut microbiota. This refers to the microbial community that reside in our gut and contribute to our overall health and sense of well-being.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

IBS is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders in western countries with 2.4 to 3.5 million visits to the doctor every year in the US alone. And while IBS affects people of all ages, including children, the symptoms – like the ways to relieve – can vary significantly from individual to individual.  

Bloating and Abdominal pain

Talking about intestinal gas is not an ideal conversation starter at the best of times. But the reality is that most people will build up gas in their intestinal track through swallowing, talking, eating, and drinking. This can lead to belching and flatulence. Belching is a regular process associated with air accumulated in the stomach. Normally this can be belched back or as it moves into the small intestine, it can be eventually passed as flatus or rectal gas.  Flatulence is one way to refer to the passage of rectal gas, which is normally a combination of ingested air and gas generated by the activity of colon bacteria on undigested carbohydrates.

For IBS sufferers, the normal processes of releasing surplus intestinal air through belching and flatulence might not be enough. Significant build-up of intestinal gas can lead to abdominal distention and pain that can vary from mild to severe and significantly affect daily life. For those with IBS flare-ups, changes in diet and lifestyle that are more likely to reduce the severity and frequency of cramps and bloating.

Tips to relieve bloating and abdominal pain


In the US, constipation is a common gastrointestinal complaint, with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on laxatives and over 2.5 million visits to the doctor per year. The American College of Gastroenterology defines constipation based on symptoms including unsatisfactory defecation with either infrequent stools, difficulty in passing stool or both. Some IBS sufferers experience constipation as one of their symptoms which can lead to a sense of fullness, bloating and general discomfort.

Tips to relieve constipation


Second only to respiratory infections, diarrhea is the most frequently reported illnesses in the US. While most people will have experienced bouts of diarrhea at some point in their lives, for people experiencing gut hypersensitivity and IBS, diarrhea can happen frequently and suddenly, usually accompanied by persistent abdominal bloating and pain. In the long term, this can impact negatively on a person’s overall quality of life and on their social and professional activities.

According to the ACG, diarrhea can be acute (lasting less than two weeks), persistent (lasting between two and four weeks) and chronic (lasting more than four weeks). IBS sufferers who experience diarrhea as one of their main symptoms can also include abdominal cramps, nausea, fatigue, fever, and a sense of bowel urgency. For 58 year old Dorothy and 26 year old Eleanor, this meant experiencing anxiety when travelling or being away from home or nearby toilet facilities.

Tips to relieve diarrhea

Take Action Against Your Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

While IBS can be an ominous condition that currently doesn’t have concrete testing and treatment protocols, there are many things you can do to better manage symptoms. Document any triggers to your IBS symptoms, including specific foods. Start your journey equipped with the right information with YorkTest’s Premium Food Sensitivity Test which tests your IgG reactivity to 200 food and drink ingredients. It can also be helpful to journal any personal issues or psychological struggles you may be facing, such as major stressors, feelings of anxiety and depression, or recent or significant life changes. Taking inventory and writing down all things that may be influencing your IBS symptoms as well as optimizing your diet and lifestyle is an important first step to taking action.


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