Diarrhea is a common problem. While diarrhea may often occur infrequently and for a short period of time, symptoms of diarrhea or stomach pain that occur frequently are worth paying attention to as they can signal a bigger issue.

If you experience symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain and discomfort lasting on average at least one day a week for the last three months with initial symptoms starting at least six months ago, it may be a condition called irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea, or IBS-D. Only a qualified healthcare professional can diagnose IBS-D, so it’s important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

What is IBS-D?

IBS-D is a subtype of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common intestinal condition associated with unpredictable bowel movements that can change the way people with IBS live their life. While the precise cause of IBS-D is unknown, what we do know is that it is a complicated condition associated with several factors that can affect the digestive system.

Some studies suggest an imbalance in the usual numbers and proportions of normal healthy bacteria in the digestive system may be found in people with IBS-D. The digestive system has trillions of bacteria and microorganisms, collectively called the microbiota, that are constantly working to keep your body functioning normally. The microbiota helps with the digestion and absorption of food and works with the immune system as a barrier against other microorganisms that can cause disease. An imbalance in the microbiota can be related to genetics, infection or disease, anxiety, depression, diet, drug use, as well as other causes. Other causes of IBS-D may be related to problems in the immune system, poor signaling between the brain and digestive system, genetics and possibly anxiety and depression.

What are the symptoms of IBS-D?

IBS-D symptoms can happen on a regular basis and vary widely from one person to the next. Symptoms always include abdominal pain and diarrhea, but there's a wide range of other symptoms also associated with the condition, including bloating and an urgent need to have a bowel movement. For some people, symptoms happen on a regular basis, while others experience them as infrequently as once a week, making it difficult to know when and where their symptoms will occur.

IBS-D can take a toll, especially on those who don’t see improvement of their symptoms. A recent survey of adults living with IBS, sponsored by Salix, found that a vast majority saw no improvement in their symptoms over the past year (February 2021 – February 2022), reporting their abdominal pain did not improve (73%), nor did bloating (74%), frequency of loose stools (70%) or the urgency to have a bowel movement (74%).

A separate survey found that, while managing the multiple symptoms of IBS-D can be difficult, many people do not seek treatment for the condition. That’s particularly true for those whose symptoms are varied and erratic, even though the unexpected occurrence of those symptoms can greatly curtail activities and enjoyment.

If you have IBS, you’re not alone. The condition affects over 13.5 million people in the United States! Adobe Stock

The Prevalence of IBS and Subtypes like IBS-D

If you have IBS, you’re not alone. The condition affects over 13.5 million people in the United States, and often occurs in people younger than 45 years old. Twice as many women as men live with subtype IBS-D and though women may be diagnosed at a higher rate than men, their pathway to relief may not be the same.

The Living with IBS Now: Patient Perspectives report, sponsored by Salix, found men (79%) were more likely than women (66%) to report they have received a prescription, and of those offered a prescription, men (77%) were more likely than women (58%) to report taking a prescription medication.

Diagnosing and Treating IBS-D

The good news is that if you’re suffering with IBS-D, there are approved treatment options that can be prescribed once you’re diagnosed with the condition. Your health care provider will want to discuss all of the symptoms you’ve experienced, in addition to other factors when making their diagnosis. That is why it’s so important to discuss with your physician ALL the symptoms you experience, even if some or all of them come and go or change over time. Since there are a number of different types of medications available, tracking and informing your health care provider of your symptoms can help them determine the prescription treatment that's right for you.

Click here to learn about an IBS-D treatment option for adults.