If you are someone who is struggling with uncomfortable gut symptoms like bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, excessive wind or stomach pain and think you might have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but you’re completely overwhelmed by how to get a diagnosis, this blog post if for you!
Suffering with debilitating gut symptoms can be incredibly difficult and make you feel lonely and isolated because, unless someone has gut issue themselves, they can never truly understand how you are feeling or what you are going through.
We can be made to feel like our symptoms are all in our head, but you are not alone! I was just like you when I started getting symptoms over 20 years ago and it took me over 10 years to finally be diagnosed with IBS.
The diagnosis of IBS typically involves a process of exclusion, which means that other conditions with similar symptoms should first be ruled out. To help you bust all the myths out there about diagnosing IBS, I am revealing the secret and general guideline of the steps you can take to get an accurate IBS diagnosis:
1. Medical History. Your General Practitioner (GP) will ask about your symptoms and medical history to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
2. Physical Exam. A physical examination may be conducted to check for any signs of other underlying conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
3. Diagnostic Tests. Your GP may recommend diagnostic tests, such as blood tests, stool tests, or imaging tests, to rule out other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease, or colon cancer. Some common tests include:
Coeliac disease screening blood tests. These include tests for antibodies called IgA and tTg. It’s important to eliminate coeliac disease as a cause of your symptoms, because unlike IBS, it does cause inflammation throughout your gut and can also lead to other long-term health complications like nutrient deficiencies.
Faecal calprotectin stool test. This is a relatively non-invasive test and is used as a marker for inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
Full blood examination. This is a blood test to check your overall health and also rule out any potential infections. It is also worth asking for tests called CRP and/or ESR to be included in this as these can indicate inflammation.
4. Specialist Referral. Your doctor should refer you to a gastroenterologist who is a doctor who specialises in treating diseases and conditions related to the digestive system and intestines.
5. Rome IV Criteria. The Rome IV Criteria are a set of guidelines used to diagnose IBS based on specific symptoms. This includes whether you have been experiencing recurrent abdominal pain and discomfort, on average, at least 1 day per week in the last 3 months, which is associated with 2 or more of the following:
Related to bowel movements (may be increased or unchanged by bowel movements)
Associated with a change in stool frequency
Associated with a change in stool form or appearance
6. Additional Tests. If your symptoms meet the Rome IV criteria and no other conditions are found, your doctor may order additional tests such as a gastroscopy and/or colonoscopy, lactose breath test, or breath test for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) to help confirm the diagnosis.
Unfortunately, there are currently no medical tests available that can diagnose IBS as no damage or inflammation occurs throughout the gastrointestinal system, so your gastroenterologist will use these tests along with the Rome IV Criteria to eliminate whether your symptoms may be caused by another medical condition and formally make an IBS diagnosis.
It's important to work with your doctors to ensure you receive a proper diagnosis and to develop an appropriate medical treatment plan.
It is also important to work closely with an Accredited Practising Dietitian that specialises in IBS to help you identify the underlying cause of your symptoms and develop an effective management plan for your individual needs so that you can take control of your IBS for good.