8 Symptoms That Mean It's Not IBS

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jennifer Larson on May 9, 2021
  • Female doctor using digital tablet in consultation
    It might not actually be IBS.
    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is not actually a disease. It’s a gastrointestinal syndrome, the name for a constellation of symptoms that can make you feel very uncomfortable in a few different ways. The symptoms typically include constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, mucus in your stool and diarrhea. Some people with IBS suffer more from constipation than diarrhea and vice versa. And still others experience alternating symptoms—constipation, followed by a bout of diarrhea, followed by another round of constipation. People often confuse IBS with a number of other disorders and diseases, since it does have some symptoms in common with other conditions. For example, you might also experience indigestion, fatigue, headaches, and backaches, which can overlap with other syndromes and illnesses. It may help to learn what symptoms are not associated with IBS, and if you develop any of these issues, it might be worth asking your doctor to reconsider your diagnosis.
  • closeup of stomach
    1. Inflammation in the Intestines
    IBS can make you very uncomfortable. Fortunately, IBS discomfort does not actually signify major harm to your intestines. People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), however, do develop inflammation in their intestines that can lead to permanent tissue damage. IBD can be very painful, so if you develop this type of pain, be sure to notify your doctor.
  • Sick woman taking her temperature
    2. Fever
    Fever is not a symptom associated with IBS. If you have developed a fever and are experiencing shivering, sweating and fatigue, you may have contracted a virus or a bacterial infection. If you can’t seem to get rid of a fever, be sure to contact your doctor, as a persistent fever could be a sign of something more serious.
  • Close-up of a man standing on a scale
    3. Weight Loss
    Most people with IBS tend to maintain a relatively stable weight. But if you suddenly drop a significant amount of weight without trying, it could be cause for concern. Unexplained sudden weight loss is not a typical experience for most people who just have IBS. In fact, weight loss tends to be associated more with irritable bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, in which people have trouble digesting and absorbing nutrients from their food.
  • woman in public bathroom
    4. Bleeding
    You might occasionally experience a little bleeding from hemorrhoids, which are fairly common in people with IBS. But you should not be experiencing regular or persistent bleeding from your rectum. It could be a sign of ulcerative colitis or certain types of cancer. It’s definitely worth getting checked out.
  • woman-with-headache
    5. Anemia
    Feeling unusually tired and sluggish? You could be anemic. If you have iron deficiency anemia, or IDA, it could be the result of IBD, not IBS. People with IBD often develop anemia as the result of chronic blood loss or because their bodies are unable to absorb enough iron from their food. Nausea and weight loss sometimes result from anemia, too. 
  • Man with tissue roll
    6. Unexplained Changes in Your Bowel Habits
    Maybe you’ve recently changed your diet or started taking a new medication. Or perhaps you’ve been under a lot of stress. Those factors can all affect your bowel habits. But if you’ve noticed a big change in your bowels without any precipitating factors, this could be a red flag that something else is going on. It could even be an early harbinger of colon cancer or carcinoid syndrome.
  • Older woman with stomach pain
    7. Worsening Abdominal Pain or Diarrhea
    Abdominal pain and diarrhea that comes and goes is pretty common in people with IBS. However, when these symptoms get progressively worse, that may be a sign that something else is wrong. If you’re writhing around in pain in the middle of the night, that’s also a possible warning sign of some other type of colon disorder. And if your diarrhea worsened after IBS treatment, or never really went away, it’s important to be tested for more serious conditions that could be the cause.
  • Senior woman sleeping
    8. Recent Bowel Irregularity
    IBS is much more common among people under age 45—and it’s more common in women. So if you’re in your 50s or older and suddenly develop new bowel symptoms or become irregular, that could be a red flag. According to the IBS Network, bowel cancer tends to occur much more often in older people—and unusual irregularity can be a first sign.
8 Symptoms That Mean It's Not IBS

About The Author

Jennifer Larson has more than 15 years of professional writing experience with a specialization in healthcare. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and memberships in the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Education Writers Association.
  1. Conditions with Similar Symptoms as: Irritable Bowel Syndrome. University of Maryland Medical Center. http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition-symptom-links/conditions-with-similar-symptoms-as-irritable-bowel-syndrome
  2. IBS and IBD: Two Very Different Disorders. Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. http://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/resources/ibs-and-ibd-two-very.html
  3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome.
  4. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/basics/definition/con-2002457...
  5. Is This IBS? IBS Network. https://www.theibsnetwork.org/have-i-got-ibs/is-this-ibs/
  6. Kaitha S, Bashir M, Ali T. Iron deficiency anemia in inflammatory bowel disease. World J Gastrointest Pathophysiol. 2015;6(3):62-72. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4540708/
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Last Review Date: 2021 May 9
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