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Could I have IBS? And tips to ensure an accurate diagnosis

Have you been frustrated with constant digestive issues such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and constipation or diarrhea, and you have not been able to pinpoint what the culprit is?

Digestive diseases can be so frustrating because there are a variety of diseases where their symptoms will overlap. So the path to an accurate diagnosis can be frustrating, exhausting, and expensive. IBS is one of the most common digestive conditions that impacts nearly 10% of people. It is even the second leading cause next to the common cold on why people miss work.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder in which abdominal pain is associated with a variety of symptoms. IBS is often referred to as an "invisible" disorder because it is classified as a functional digestive disorder. Meaning all the organs appear normal, but there is still a sign of something is not working right. As a functional disorder, this means there is not a lab test, diagnostic image, or procedure you can do to diagnose IBS. Functional digestive disorders are linked to a dysfunction of the gut-brain interaction. Some of these examples include:

  • Motility Disorders: Altered movement through the digestive tract (such as leading to diarrhea or constipation).

  • Visceral Hypersensitivity: that is a heightened sensation of abdominal pain.

  • Dysbiosis: Alterations of the gut microbiota communities

  • Altered gut-brain axis: altered signals from the brain to the intestinal tract on how it sends and receives information is impacted.

Signs and Symptoms of IBS

IBS is diagnosed based on a group of criteria of symptoms, referred to as the ROME IV Criteria:

The criteria is based on recurrent abdominal pain, with on average at least 1 day/week in the last 3 months with symptoms onset at least 6 months prior to diagnosis,, associated with two or more of the following criteria:

  • Related to defecation: either in improving in pain or worsening of symptoms with a bowel movement.

  • Associated with a change in frequency of stool:

    • There is no "normal" amount of bowel movements, but a good rule of thumb is:

      • Constipation: less than 3 bowel movements per week.

      • Diarrhea: more than 3 bowel movements per day of loose stools.

  • Associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool.

In order to classify your stool type, a clinical assessment tool that is commonly used is the Bristol Stool Type chart that breaks our stool formations into 7 different types of groups.

Here is how to decode the stool formations:

  • Type 1-2: Constipation with harder smaller round stools.

  • Type 3-4: Ideal stools that are smoother and easier to pass.

  • Type 5-7: Loose stools that are often associated with diarrhea and urgency.

Once, you understand your stool type, you can classify your type of IBS. There are three different classifications of IBS:

  • IBS-Constipation

    • With more than 25% of bowel movements classified as Bristol Stool type 1-2, and less than 25% of bowel movements Bristol Stool type 6-7.

  • IBS-Diarrhea

    • With more than 25% of bowel movements classified as Bristol Stool type 6-7, and less than 25% of bowel movements Bristol Stool type 1-2.

  • IBS-Mixed:

    • With more than 25% of bowel movements classified as Bristol Stool type 1-2, and more than 25% of bowel movements Bristol Stool type 6-7.

Tips for an accurate diagnosis

As mentioned before, there are several other conditions that resemble IBS, and it is important you work closely with your health care provider for an accurate diagnosis.

To ensure an accurate diagnosis, make sure to prepare for your appointment by bringing a symptom log that includes:

  • Symptoms (constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, abdominal pain, cramping)

  • Foods and portions consumed

  • Beverages consumed

  • Sleep patterns

  • Exercise

  • Stressful events

  • Medication and supplements taken.

After these patterns have been reviewed, your provider may want to make sure to rule out other potential causes based on your symptoms. They may run tests or exams such as:

  • Physical

  • Ultrasound or CT Scan

  • Colonoscopy

  • Blood Tests

  • Stool Tests

  • Urine Tests

There are specific symptoms that are not linked with IBS that could warrant further investigation by your doctor, such as:

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Rectal bleeding or blood in stools

  • Iron Deficiency Anemia

  • Unexplained Vomiting

  • Difficulty Swallowing

  • Persistent abdominal pain not relieved by gas or bowel movement

If you are experiencing any of the noted symptoms above, please contact your doctor's office for further evaluation.

If you are curious if your symptoms could be linked to IBS and want to attempt dietary approaches to manage your symptoms, schedule a free discovery call today!


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