One of the most common causes of abdominal pain is a functional disease of the small and large intestine, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The cause of the disease is unknown. It can occur at any age and in either sex, but most commonly affects young women. It is characterised by mild or severe abdominal pain, bowel movements (diarrhoea, constipation, alternation of both) and bloating. IBS-associated abdominal pain is spasmodic, intermittent, occurring during waking hours, most often in the morning. After defecation, the abdominal pain or discomfort is relieved or disappears.
In addition to abdominal pain in IBS, problems with bowel movements are common. Sometimes normal bowel movements can be replaced by temporary periods of diarrhoea or constipation. Diarrhoea is characterised by frequent bowel movements of small to moderate volume, mainly in the morning or after meals. Increased bowel movements may cause lower abdominal cramping pain. There is often an urgency to defecate, which can lead to faecal incontinence. Although the abdominal pain is usually relieved or resolved after defecation, the patient may still feel that they have not defecated properly. The stools may also be mucusy.
Abdominal pain and accompanying symptoms are worsened by psychological or social stress. It is a common symptom that in a high-priority life situation, the patient may feel anxious hours before a major event (e.g. exam, report, meeting, etc.) and may go to the toilet several times at the same time, with small amounts of diarrhoea up to 6-8 times. However, it is important to note that the abdominal pain or discomfort associated with IBS is not accompanied by so-called alarm symptoms: bloody stools, weight loss, loss of appetite, fever, dysphagia, etc. Abdominal pain in IBS does not occur during sleep. Abdominal pain that occurs during sleep or prevents sleep should also be considered as an alarm symptom and should be attributed to an organic disorder of the digestive tract.
Abdominal pain associated with IBS can often be accompanied by non-digestive symptoms, such as muscle and joint pain, frequent and urgent urination, pain during intercourse, decreased sexual desire or menstrual irregularity.