Very simply, if you have abdominal pain, bloating, discomfort and erratic bowel movements, there is a good chance you have irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. But there is a lot more to it than that, so let’s look at IBS in more detail. 

If you have the symptoms listed above, you are not alone. Up to one in five people suffer from IBS, making it the most common digestive problem that anyone experiences But despite how widespread the problem is, the medical diagnosis of IBS is grossly lacking and many people are misdiagnosed and sometimes incorrectly treated.

To make things worse, some medical professionals still hold on to the old and incorrect idea that it is all in people’s heads, and dismiss the problem as a psychological disorder.There is no single laboratory test that can identify whether or not you have IBS, so the way of identifying whether you have it is by using the Rome III Diagnostic Criteria for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. The Rome III criteria is simply: Recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort at least three days a month over the last three months. 

In short, if you have occasional abdominal pain or discomfort and altered bowel movements over a period of at least three months, you have IBS. If you suffer from IBS I am sure you can quickly see that this is, well, a rather inadequate description,as the symptoms of IBS are in reality far more varied and often much more frequent. 

The Rome III criteria also has three sub-types of IBS depending on whether you tend toward constipation, diarrhoea,or a combination of both. The problem with this classification is that many people will switch between each of these sub-types. Your predominant sub-type may, however, be used to direct your treatment. For example, if you have IBS-D you might receive a drug to help stop the diarrhoea. It is important to know that the Rome III criteria is more of an ‘expert opinion’ than it is based on the range of symptoms that people with IBS actually suffer from, and is more for research purposes than it is for working out if you actually have IBS. In fact, an expert review concluded that the accuracy of the Rome III criteria has not been established. In other words, it is not something you want to solely rely on. 

So what are the symptoms of IBS? Well, beyond the simple Rome III definitions there are a host of other symptoms that people with IBS are known to suffer from. Answer the following questionnaire to see if you are experiencing some of the more common symptoms.


‘Yes’ applies if you typically have experienced these symptoms more than three days a week over the last month.

  1. Do you suffer from abdominal pain or discomfort?
  2. Do you feel relief of pain or discomfort upon defecation?
  3. Does the pain or discomfort change with bowel movements?
  4. Do you feel bloated or distended?
  5. Do you have visible abdominal distention?
  6. Do you experience constipation (hard, pellet-like stools)?
  7. Do you experience diarrhoea (loose and runnystools)?
  8. Do you experience a combination of constipation and diarrhoea?
  9. Do you get abdominal pain and cramps?
  10. Do you suffer from excessive flatulence?
  11. Do you get a sense of urgency to rush to the bathroom?
  12. Do you strain upon defecation?
  13. Do you get more frequent stools at the onset of pain?
  14. Do you get looser stools at the onset of pain?
  15. Do you feel a sense of incomplete evacuation?
  16. Do you notice mucus in your stools?
  17. Do you experience reflux or heartburn?
  18. Are your symptoms worse after eating?
  19. Are your symptoms worse as the day progresses?
  20. Are your symptoms related to stress?
  21. Do you suffer from depression and/or anxiety?
  22. Do you experience chronic fatigue and tiredness?
  23. Do you suffer from muscle aches and pains?

If you answered ‘yes’ to questions 1, 2 or 3, you have IBS by the textbook definition. However, in reality there are a lot of othercommon symptoms and there is a good chance you have a lot more going on. As you can see, there are many varied symptoms of IBS. Although you may not have all of these, you will have quite a few. It is important to understand that IBS is more than just the Rome III ‘textbook’ definition; it is actually a constellation of diverse symptoms ranging from digestive symptoms to problems that are not limited to your digestive system, such as chronic fatigue, anxiety or muscle pain.