Diagnosing IBS

January 5, 2012
Over 50 million Americans have the digestive condition known as irritable bowel syndrome. But how can you tell if upset bowels are actually IBS? Irritable bowel syndrome is a common problem, which manifests most frequently as abdominal pain and upset bowel, ranging from diarrhea to constipation. While IBS is not curable, its symptoms can be controlled. Of course, one bout of diarrhea does not make IBS, but it's important to see a doctor following a persistent change in bowel habits, or if your stool's appearance changes. When you enter the office, expect your doctor to take a complete medical history. Although it may be embarrassing, it's important to describe your symptoms in full detail. Because IBS does not manifest as internal damage, medical professionals will rely heavily on your description to diagnose the condition. In fact, your doctor will refer to a specific set of diagnostic rules called the Rome criteria. According to the Rome criteria, a patient must have experienced abdominal discomfort for at least twelve weeks in the past year AND must have at least two of the following symptoms: ...abdominal pain that is relieved after a bowel movement, stool that has changed in appearance or form, or bowel movements that have altered in frequency. If your symptoms fit the Rome criteria and you don't have other suspicious problems, your doctor may diagnose IBS immediately. But because intestinal distress CAN be the sign of something more serious, additional tests may be ordered. For example, a stool sample may be tested, particularly in patients with diarrhea. This can rule out a parasitic infection. Blood tests may also be ordered to look for conditions like celiac disease, which is characterized by intolerance to byproducts from wheat, rye and barley. A doctor may also perform tests for lactose intolerance, a common problem which occurs when a patient is unable to digest the sugars found in milk products. Lactose intolerance tests include a brief exclusion of lactose from the diet and a simple breath test. If your doctor suspects that the problem may be more complex, or if he or she wishes to follow up on a preliminary diagnosis of celiac disease, more invasive tests like a colonoscopy or endoscopy may be ordered. A colonoscopy, which is performed under anesthesia, allows for the colon to be examined with a thin tube with a light on the end. A colonoscopy can help identify colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, a group of conditions which harm the digestive tract over time. An endoscopy uses an endoscope, a similar piece of equipment that examines the upper intestinal tract and small intestine. This can be used to take samples of the intestine to confirm findings of celiac disease. If a doctor discovers that IBS IS the cause of symptoms, however, he or she will talk to you about lifestyle changes and medication options which can help ease discomfort. Irritable bowel syndrome is a lifelong condition, and can be frustrating. However, modern medicine and home treatment options can help ease your symptoms! Please, talk to your doctor if you're concerned about IBS.
Last Updated:
July 16, 2012