Diagnosing IBS is a Process of Elimination (no pun intended)!

Diagnosing IBS can be a long process. There is not one simple test to determine if your symptoms are related to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. And because the symptoms can come and go, it may not seem urgent to get a diagnosis. You may wonder if it is really necessary. For me, getting a diagnosis gave me peace of mind that my problems were not from more serious causes. It also gave me the focus and motivation to help myself figure out a treatment plan.

A doctor will not just be looking at diagnosing IBS, but rather, he or she will be trying to rule out serious diseases. Unfortunately, some doctors will not take your complaints seriously. If this is the case, be persistent. If the doctor still does not take notice, find another who can help you. A doctor specializing in gastroenterology deals with the digestive system and digestive problems all day long! This may help alleviate some of your embarrassment and also, give you the confidence in knowing that he or she will be the most knowledgeable when it comes to diagnosing IBS.

Finding a doctor who practices holistic or complementary medicine is another option that can put you on the right track to diagnosing and successfully treating your IBS. This type of doctor will look at the whole body and mind when diagnosing IBS and will also be able to use conventional medical tests and treatments to help you. You will need a doctor who understands that IBS is a genuine problem for so many people and that it is not “all in your head”. There is a great website about IBS written by a doctor who practices this way called IBS-Help-Online.com.

Methods of Diagnosing IBS

  • Review of Symptoms – Bring a thorough list of all your symptoms, including how severe, and how long you have been experiencing them.

    Just as important for the doctor to know is, if and when your symptoms are relieved. Many IBS sufferers, but certainly not all, report a relief of symptoms after a bowel movement, which can be a good indicator for your doctor that your symptoms are IBS related.

  • Blood test - Blood work can help the doctor rule out celiac disease, thyroid problems and inflammation in the body.
  • Stool analysis – A stool analysis will screen for infection, parasites or blood in the stool. The stool is collected at home and then sent to a lab for analysis.
  • Your doctor may also order:

  • X ray – A barium x ray will help the doctor determine if there are problems with the large intestine. A barium fluid will be inserted into the anus to help the intestines show up better on the x ray.
  • Sigmoidoscopy – The doctor uses a thin tube with a camera, called a sigmoidoscope, inserted into the anus, to look at the lower part of the colon. It is not painful, and takes 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Colonoscopy – The hardest part about a colonoscopy is the preparation. You will only be able to drink clear fluids and broth the day before the exam. You will also need to drink a laxative fluid, designed to completely clean you out, and will keep you running to the bathroom for several hours. The colonoscopy itself is very easy because you are given a sedative to relax you and help you fall asleep. I have no recollection of my colonoscopy and I want to keep it that way!
  • Ultrasound – I wanted to cover all my bases and rule out any female disorders as well. And if you are female and you complain of abdominal pain, the doctor will most likely want an ultrasound. The ultrasound is easy, and painless, but you must have a full bladder for part of the exam, which may be slightly uncomfortable. Just a side note: sometimes you have to sit and wait for your ultrasound. Learn from my experience, if your bladder is feeling too full to the point of being painful, let the staff know! They will most likely allow you to empty part of your bladder to give you some relief.
  • Some (or all!) of these tests may seem like an embarrassment to have to undergo. Remember! The gastroenterologist deals with this stuff all day! It is why he or she is there. So please do not delay getting the tests done.

    After the tests are done, then your doctor will be able to rule out the Digestive System Diseases that all have similar symptoms to IBS.

    Find out about treatment options

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