Irritable bowel syndrome (also called IBS) is a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract that impacts the large intestine, causing abdominal discomfort, abdominal bloating, and abnormal bowel habits.
How would a doctor diagnose IBS? A doctor can diagnose IBS using the Rome criteria, which dictates that a patient has to exhibit recurring abdominal pain for six or more months, as well as 2 of the following 3 symptoms:
- Pain or relief following bowel movements
- Change in frequency of bowel movements
- Change in consistency of bowel movements
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, around 12% of people suffer from IBS in North America. It is more common in women and people under the age of 50.
In this article, we cover how to diagnose IBS — plus symptoms and treatments.
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Common Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
What are the most common symptoms of IBS? The most common symptoms of IBS include:
- Pain relief after defecation
- The feeling of incomplete defecation
- Increased urgency to defecate
- Abdominal pain
- Unintended weight loss
- Mucus in stool
- Rectal bleeding
Types of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There are 4 types of irritable bowel syndrome, with the 2 most common being IBS-C and IBS-D:
- IBS-C is irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (or constipation-predominant). This describes when your abnormal bowel habits result in fewer bowel movements or difficulty defecating.
- IBS-D is irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (or diarrhea-predominant). This describes when your IBS results in uncontrollable bowel movements.
- IBS-M is a third, less common type of IBS, which means “mixed” bowel habits IBS, combining elements of IBS-C and IBS-D.
- IBS-U is an uncommon fourth type of IBS, meaning “unclassified” IBS.
What’s the difference between IBS and IBD? The main difference between IBS and IBD is that IBS refers to a syndrome made up of a group of symptoms, while IBD refers to a group of digestive diseases that can cause ulcers/lesions.
IBD stands for inflammatory bowel disease and is typically more severe and disruptive to daily life than IBS. The two most common examples of gastrointestinal disorders classified as IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Tests Your Doctor May Perform to Diagnose IBS
A doctor may begin by evaluating your medical and family history, then conduct a physical exam and further testing to rule out other issues. Your primary care physician may administer these tests, or they may refer you to a gastroenterologist.
IBS cannot be definitively detected by a single scan or diagnostic test, but there are an array of medical tests your doctor may perform to determine if you have IBS and why.
At PrimeHealth, we use a variety of the below tests depending on each individual patient, because IBS has many root causes and manifestations. Depending on the causes of IBS for a specific patient, the tests, treatment, and recommendations are different.
A physical examination is the most common test to diagnose IBS. During a physical examination, your doctor usually checks for abdominal bloating, listens to your abdomen with a stethoscope, and checks your abdomen for any contact pain.
Your provider may also examine your rectum for rectal bleeding via a stool test or medical history.
Your doctor will ask about your medical history, including your recent symptoms. Ideally, you will have been tracking your symptoms of IBS — perhaps with a simple diary or Notes app.
As long as you do not exhibit any “red flag” symptoms (rectal bleeding, fever, dizziness), identifying multiple IBS symptoms is often enough for many doctors to be confident in an IBS diagnosis without needing further tests.
Some doctors may ask about antibiotic overuse. Overusing antibiotics can trigger leaky gut syndrome, SIBO, and yeast overgrowth, leading to digestive diseases like IBS.
A functional doctor can work with you to determine if you’re experiencing a hormone imbalance. When your hormones are out of whack, your bowels can suffer the consequences.
When diagnosing IBS, your provider will ask about a family history of:
- IBD (such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
- Celiac disease
- Lactose intolerance
- Other digestive diseases
- Colon cancer
Functional doctors may also ask if your family has any history of chronic stress, leaky gut syndrome, or autoimmune disorders.
Does a colonoscopy show IBS? No, a colonoscopy does not show IBS, but it does rule out the potential alternatives to IBS, such as colon cancer (this requires a biopsy) or IBD. Colonoscopies can also determine whether you have polyps or tumors in your colon.
Spastic colon, or colon spasms, are involuntary muscle contractions frequently linked to IBS.
A sigmoidoscopy is a procedure where your doctor uses a flexible tube to look into your sigmoid colon. This procedure is one method to look for IBD, cancer, or intestinal polyps (abnormal growths). If any of these conditions are confirmed, you can rule out IBS.
An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy checks for celiac disease and gastric or intestinal ulcers. At PrimeHealth, we also test for parasites that may be causing your IBS through stool testing. An endoscopy is one additional way to identify parasites.
Does IBS show up in a blood test? IBS does not show up on a blood test, but there are indicators in blood work that can point to infections, deficiencies, or antibodies that signal the presence of IBS.
A medical professional will procure a blood sample from you and send it to a lab. Doctors use these blood samples to determine if you have anemia, infection, parasites, or other medical conditions.
A few years ago, Dr. Mark Pimentel developed a two-blood test process called IBS Smart for diagnosing IBS related to recent food poisoning. These two blood tests identify the presence of 2 antibodies: anti-Cdtb and anti-vinculin.
Doctors use these stool tests to identify blood or mucus in stool, signs of infection, or parasites.
A medical professional will give you a container for catching a stool sample. You’ll probably take the test at home. It comes with instructions on where to bring the test or where to send it.
Our functional providers tend to use more in-depth stool testing than most conventional doctors for a more precise understanding of your stool’s makeup. Common names for these tests are Genova GI Effects or Diagnostic Solutions GI Map.
These tests use DNA PCR analysis to investigate the various organisms present in the gut, like bacteria, yeast, and parasites. They also look at inflammatory markers, enzymes, short-chain fatty acids, the presence of fat or protein, and more.
Celiac Disease Test
Celiac disease can mimic many of the same abdominal symptoms as IBS. You may need a celiac disease test to rule it out, or to determine if celiac disease could be triggering your IBS.
Doctors usually test for celiac disease in the following ways:
- Blood testing
- Genetic testing
- Antibody testing
What is the difference between IBS and celiac disease? The main difference between IBS and celiac disease is that IBS is a syndrome that impacts bowel movement, while celiac disease is a gluten allergy. Celiac disease only affects the small intestine, while IBS affects both the large and small intestines.
Lactose Intolerance Testing
A hydrogen breath test may determine if you have lactose intolerance.
An elimination diet can also help you determine if you are intolerant to milk proteins. During an elimination diet, you eliminate all dairy for at least a few weeks to see if your symptoms resolve.
Cutting out dairy is a relatively straightforward (and inexpensive) treatment option, assuming this is the root cause of your IBS.
The use of x-rays is not common in the diagnosis of IBS. However, it can be helpful in some cases to rule out other causes. X-rays can identify lesions caused by parasites, which can trigger IBS.
CT scan stands for computerized tomography scan. A CT scan uses special X-ray equipment to show a cross-section of internal organs. In rare cases, a doctor may order a CT scan to look for digestive diseases that could rule out IBS.
SIBO Breath Test
Testing for IBS at Home
Unfortunately, you cannot definitively diagnose IBS at home. However, there are some online IBS diagnosis questionnaires that you can take to assess your current condition. These quizzes are never a substitute for a doctor’s diagnosis, as each IBS diagnosis and treatment plan is individual.
To further help you assess your current condition, here are 3 more tests you can do yourself:
- Candida spit test: To test for Candida overgrowth, which often accompanies IBS, spit into a glass of water — first thing in the morning. If it floats for 45 minutes, you’re golden. If it sinks or forms legs, you may have an overgrowth of Candida yeast.
- Food allergy pulse test: Also called the Coca Pulse Test, this one takes patience. Check your pulse, put food in your mouth for 30 seconds without chewing, then recheck your pulse. If your pulse rises 6 points, you may be allergic to that food.
- Low stomach acid test: First thing in the morning, drink ¼ teaspoon of baking soda in 4-6 ounces of chilled water. Try to burp. If it takes longer than 3 minutes to burp, you may have low stomach acid, which can lead to digestive issues like IBS.
Another self-check is identifying when you are particularly stressed and checking if your IBS acts up when that stress appears. Stress can cause bowel disorders.
Preparing for Your Doctor’s Appointment
We recommend the following ways to prepare for your doctor’s appointment:
- Keep a food diary.
- Know your medical history.
- Know your family history. Call relatives ahead of time if you’re unsure of their digestive history.
- Document any symptoms of IBS you experience. Get detailed — write down times, specific symptoms, symptom duration, and anything else you can about what you experienced.
- Mentally prepare for physical exams such as a colonoscopy. These tests will be less uncomfortable if you have already accepted them as a possibility.
- Write down any questions you have so you won’t forget.
Here are some good questions to ask your doctor:
- What is most likely causing my symptoms?
- How can I prepare for any tests I need?
- What dietary/lifestyle changes would you recommend?
- How long should it take to see results from treatment?
A Functional Approach to IBS Treatment
The most effective treatments for IBS include dietary and lifestyle changes, followed by medication if necessary.
Making changes in your diet will be helpful to your overall health, as well as to your IBS symptoms. We recommend a low-FODMAP diet and taking dietary probiotics.
FODMAPs are foods well-known to trigger digestive health problems. FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” These are short-chain carbohydrates that are difficult for your digestive system to process.
On a low-FODMAP diet, you avoid these foods:
- Dairy products
- Garlic, onions (contain fructans)
- Fruit (because of fructose)
- Brussels sprouts
- Snow peas
- Agave nectar
- Sugar alcohols
The low-FODMAP diet is not meant to last very long — no more than a few months. And it’s not recommended during SIBO treatment. The anti-SIBO antibiotics are more effective when you eat high-FODMAP foods.
This diet is also typically inappropriate during pregnancy, as it may lead to limited caloric or nutrient intake vital to a developing fetus.
Dietary probiotics for IBS are great for restoring the balance of good bacteria in your gut. Probiotics are simply “good” bacteria — the microorganisms your body needs to function properly.
Unfortunately, antibiotic overuse and other bad habits can lead to an imbalance of bacteria in your gut. This imbalance can cause leaky gut syndrome, another trigger of IBS.
Fortunately, probiotics can return your gut to its former glory. Probiotics have been shown to improve IBS symptoms in countless scientific studies.
Some of the best sources for dietary probiotics are:
Use caution when sourcing probiotics from food, as many probiotic foods can be FODMAPs. Probiotics are also available as supplements.
Probiotics may not work if you’re suffering from SIBO because the good bacteria get stuck in your small intestine before making it to the large intestine, where they need to go.
We recommend treating your IBS with lifestyle changes, such as lowering stress, regular exercise, intermittent fasting, and keeping 4 hours between meals.
Avoiding blue light exposure can be very helpful for getting a good night’s rest. To receive 10% off of our favorite blue light-blocking glasses by Ra Optics, enter code PRIMEHEALTH at checkout.
Exercise may lower the risk of IBS. Studies show that physically active people are significantly less likely to exhibit IBS symptoms than inactive people.
Intermittent fasting might relieve your IBS symptoms. If you’re eating too much too quickly, your digestive tract can’t properly process what you’re eating. Fasting in the mornings or evenings may fix the problem. Start with a fasting window of 12 hours, then slowly work your way to a 16-hour break between dinner and the following breakfast.
4 Hours Between Meals
Your body needs at least 4 hours without food to activate emptying via peristalsis. The nerves responsible for peristalsis in the small intestines are called the migratory motor complex.
We might prescribe our patients several medications, especially if they aren’t responding to dietary and lifestyle changes. Remember that many of the medicines listed below are meant to treat short-term symptoms and are not a cure for IBS.
- Rifaximin and Xifaxan are antibiotics that treat IBS-D and IBS-C. Many insurance companies won’t pay their high price tags, so we utilize pharmacies in Canada, where the prices are much more reasonable.
- Neomycin is an antibiotic we might prescribe for IBS-C along with rifaximin.
- Metronidazole and tinidazole are antiparasitic antibiotics that we may prescribe if the patient has parasites.
- Lubiprostone is a laxative that some doctors prescribe for IBS-C.
- Prucalopride is a promotility medication that helps activate the migratory motor complex and peristalsis.
You can get IBS medication over the counter as well:
- Loperamide (Imodium) helps control diarrhea.
- Dicyclomine (Merbentyl) is an antispasmodic, meaning it relaxes your gut muscles.
- Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) is an antacid that treats indigestion and diarrhea.
Biofilm disruptors, like Interfase Plus, may be necessary to fight harmful bacteria that form a protective biofilm.
Some healthcare providers may suggest using tricyclic antidepressants such as imipramine, amitriptyline, or nortriptyline for the temporary treatment of IBS.
However, side effects of an SSRI or tricyclic antidepressant include constipation, blurred vision, dry mouth, and even suicidal thoughts in vulnerable patients. These side effects must be considered along with their impact on IBS symptoms.
Painkillers only treat the symptoms of IBS instead of the root cause. However, relieving pain and inflammation in your digestive tract can offer short-term improvement to your quality of life while you address the underlying cause.
Here are some all-natural painkillers that don’t come with those nasty side effects:
- Oregano oil
- Peppermint oil
- Rosemary oil
How to Cure IBS in One Day
It’s not possible to reverse IBS in a single day. However, you may be able to reduce your symptoms dramatically by eliminating triggers from your diet.
If your IBS is triggered by something simple, this checklist may help reduce your IBS issues in a single day:
- Avoid gassy foods like beans, brussels sprouts, carbonated beverages, and caffeine.
- Avoid gluten and lactose. Not only do these common allergens cause inflammation that could lead to IBS, but you could have food sensitivities and not know it.
- You may be eating too much or too little fiber. Adjust your fiber intake and record your improvement or otherwise.
Don’t be fooled by anyone telling you to take honey for IBS. We’ve debunked that “remedy.”
Looking to an IBS-Free Future
Irritable bowel syndrome is treatable. Our patients prove it. There is hope. You may have to make simple changes to your lifestyle or diet, but IBS is not a permanent disease.
Our functional approach to IBS treatment is supported by research and our recovered patients. When you think about your future, IBS does not have to be a part of it.
Live in Colorado and ready to say goodbye to IBS? Schedule a phone consultation with us today.
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