Whilst irritable bowel syndrome is quite a common condition, its symptoms alone are not specific enough for a diagnosis to be made.
Similar symptoms can be seen in bowel cancer, allergies, chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis, coeliac disease and small bowel bacterial overgrowth. Therefore, not having a correct diagnosis could be affecting your long term health or even be life threatening.
This guide is based on the National Institute of Clinic Excellence’s (NICE) clinical guideline for IBS management and diagnosis (2008). NICE are an independent body which produce healthcare guidance which is considered the ‘gold standard’ and all GPs will be aware of the content of these guidelines.
So How Do You Get Diagnosed With IBS?
Well, firstly, if you think you have IBS then you need to see your GP ASAP. They will start to consider IBS after they do an initial assessment where they will ask you questions about you symptom history.
For IBS to be considered, symptoms must have been present for 6 months and include abdominal pain/discomfort, a change in bowel habits (e.g. loose stools/ constipation) and bloating.
IBS itself, can be defined as the following: if an individual has abdominal pain or discomfort which is either improved with bowels opening or associated with a change in bowels e.g. frequency or form of stool.
The individual must also have at least 2 of the following symptoms alongside this;
- altered stool passage (straining, urgency, incomplete evacuation)
- bloating, distension, tension or hardness in their abdomen
- symptoms made worse by eating
- mucus with stools
The GP will then ask questions around symptoms which could indicate other more serious conditions such as unintentional weight loss, blood in stools or a history of certain cancers in the family. These are known as ‘red flag’ indicators and would prompt the GP to investigate conditions such as bowel cancer.
Bloods tests are required in the diagnosis of IBS in order to rule out other conditions. Tests looking at inflammation, anaemia and potential coeliac disease should be carried out as standard.
No other tests are required for the diagnosis of IBS where the above symptom criteria has been met and blood tests are normal. However, in those that fall out of these by either not meeting the definition, having a ‘red flag’ or having abnormal blood results, the doctor will refer you on to a gastroenterologist (specialist digestive health consultant) who will want to do further investigations. This may include colonoscopy/ MRI/ hydrogen breath tests or an ultrasound.
Seeing a Dietitian
It is recommended that you see a dietitian after you have an official IBS diagnosis. However, in some cases there may be changes in your diet which can be made to try and help your symptoms whilst you wait for your test results or to see a gastroenterologist.
If you would like further information on this issue please contact me.
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