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How to Diagnose Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The proper diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) primarily depends on the patient’s medical history and a thorough physical examination. If you have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, then you may qualify for an upcoming IBS clinical trial in Birmingham, AL.

The Rome Criteria for IBS

In many cases, there is a lack of definitive physical symptoms sufficient enough to make a definitive diagnosis, so doctors must work through a process of elimination. In order to make this process more efficient, researchers have put together a set of diagnostic criteria, called the Rome criteria, which can be used for IBS and other gastrointestinal issues. With numerous medical conditions, the bowel may look fine, but it still isn’t functioning properly. According to the criteria, patients must present with specific signs and symptoms prior to confirming the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.

The most crucial symptoms is:

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort which persists for at least 12 weeks, although it doesn’t have to be consecutively.

Patients must also have at least two of the following:

  • Urgency, straining, or the sensation that the bowels can’t be emptied entirely
  • Alterations in consistency or frequency of the stool
  • Abdominal distension or bloating
  • Mucus in the stool

Doctors will need to assess how their patients fit these criteria, in addition to the presence of any other signs that could point to a different, more-serious condition. The following signs and symptoms are red flags that could suggest the need for additional tests:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Fever
  • Nausea or recurrent vomiting
  • Onset of symptoms after age 50
  • Abdominal pain, in particular if it isn’t being relieved following a bowel movement
  • Persistent diarrhea that can awaken you from sleep

Patients who present with any of these red flag indications will require additional medical testing in order to accurately assess their medical condition.

Otherwise, doctors may suggest a course of treatment for their patients that have met the criteria for IBS without having to do any more testing. However, those who don’t respond to treatment will likely require further testing.

Additional Medical Tests for IBS

Doctors can recommend a number of tests, including stool checks to look for infections or malabsorption complications. As a patient, you could be asked to undergo any of the following tests in order to rule out other causes for your symptoms:

  • Colonoscopy – This diagnostic test involves a small, flexible tube with a camera that is used to examine the entirety of the colon.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy – This test examines the lower part of the colon (sigmoid) using another flexible, lighted tube (sigmoidoscope).
  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan – CT scans provide a cross-sectional X-ray image of the patient’s internal organs. A scan of the pelvis and abdomen could allow your doctor to rule out other possible causes for your symptoms.
  • Blood Tests – Celiac disease (nontropical sprue) is a condition which produces a sensitivity to wheat protein, and it can cause symptoms quite similar to IBS. Blood tests could help rule out this disorder.
  • Lactose Intolerance Tests – In order to digest the sugar (lactose) in dairy products, the body needs an enzyme called lactase. People who don’t produce this enzyme could experience symptoms similar to IBS, such as diarrhea, excessive gas, and abdominal discomfort or pain. Doctors can order a breath test or have the patient avoid eating any dairy for several weeks in order to rule out this disorder.

As you can see, diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome is not always a straightforward process, and it can often take some time. If you think that you or a loved one have been experiencing the symptoms of IBS, then please be sure to set up an appointment with your doctor at your next available convenience.