All About IBS Pain

Pain Types, Locations, and When To Call Your Doctor

woman in stomach pain
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One of the hallmark, and most distressing symptoms of IBS is that of abdominal pain. This pain can be quite changeable, both it terms of its severity and when and where it occurs. This brief overview of IBS pain can help you to determine if the pain is consistent with your IBS diagnosis or if it is a sign of a different health problem.

Note: Any chronic or recurring abdominal pain should be brought to the attention of your doctor to ensure that you have the proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

This article is intended to provide information to people who have received a firm diagnosis of IBS from a physician.

Types of IBS Pain

The following are some common descriptions of IBS pain:

  • Twingy, crampy
  • Stitch-like
  • Sharp and stabbing
  • Constant abdominal aching
  • Tenderness when abdomen is touched
  • Discomfort from bloating

The severity of IBS pain can be very changeable. All of the above types of pain may range in severity from mild to unbearable. Each of the above pains may also be experienced in a constant or intermittent manner.

According to the Rome III diagnostic criteria for IBS, IBS pain is supposed to be relieved by a bowel movement. However, most people who have IBS will tell you that they tend to continue to experience abdominal pain such as tenderness, cramping and spasms that are unrelated to an actual bowel movement.

Typical Pain Locations

IBS pain can occur throughout the abdomen. Here are some more typical places where IBS pain is experienced:

  • Upper abdomen pain: This is often associated with bloating and may worsen after meals.
  • Mid abdominal pain: Cramping can occur around the area of the belly button.
  • Lower abdomen pain: This type of pain is more likely to be eased by a bowel movement.

IBS pain may also radiate beyond the area of the abdomen into the upper part of the torso.

Pain from Other Digestive Problems

Abdominal and upper torso pain does not always come from IBS. There are some ways in which IBS pain can be differentiated from other common digestive disorders by the location of the pain:

  • Pain experienced behind the sternum, after meals, and worsened by bending and lying down is likely to be heartburn.
  • Pain experienced after meals below the sternum, at the top of the abdomen, is likely to be indigestion.

When to Call Your Doctor

When IBS pain is particularly severe, it is common to wonder if you have something other than IBS. Discuss your concerns about your pain with your doctor. If, however, your pain is especially severe and does not feel like your typical IBS pain, you may need to seek immediate medical attention. This article can help you to figure out if your pain is the symptom of a true medical emergency:


Farhadi, A. “I Have IBS…Now What?!!!SanitizAir, Inc. 2007.

Thompson, G. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Heartburn, Dyspepsia: What’s the Difference?” IFFGD Digestive Health Matters 2008 17:8-11.

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