How is IBS diagnosed?

If you’ve been having uncomfortable GI symptoms, see your healthcare provider. The first step in diagnosing IBS is a medical history and a physical exam. Your provider will ask you about your symptoms:

  • Do you have pain related to bowel movements?
  • Do you notice a change in how often you have a bowel movement?
  • Has there been a change in how your poop looks?
  • How often do you have symptoms?
  • When did your symptoms start?
  • What medicines do you take?
  • Have you been sick or had a stressful event in your life recently?

Depending on your symptoms, you may need other tests to confirm a diagnosis. Blood tests, stool samples and X-rays can help rule out other diseases that mimic IBS.

Will I need a colonoscopy?

Depending on your symptoms, medical history and other factors, your provider may recommend a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to examine your colon in more detail. These two outpatient procedures are similar. The difference is that a sigmoidoscopy examines just the lower half of the colon. A colonoscopy examines the entire colon.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy can help evaluate bowel disorders, rectal bleeding or polyps. Your provider will:

  1. Insert a sigmoidoscope, a long, thin, flexible instrument, into the rectum.
  2. Advance the sigmoidoscope to the colon.
  3. View the lining of the rectum and lower part of the colon.

Here’s what you can expect during a colonoscopy. Your provider will:

  1. Insert the colonoscope through the rectum.
  2. Advance the scope and examine the entire colon.
  3. Remove small amounts of tissue for a biopsy (if necessary).
  4. Identify and remove small growths called polyps (if necessary).

Often, providers can make an accurate diagnosis and even deliver treatment using a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a much less invasive procedure compared to an abdominal operation.

Do I need to see a gastroenterologist?

If you have IBS symptoms, first talk to your primary care physician or regular healthcare provider. Your provider may refer you to a gastroenterologist.

A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the digestive system, including:

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