This month we’re digging into the most common questions I get about IBS. Last week in Part I of IBS FAQs, we answered these questions:
What is IBS? ✔
What are the symptoms of IBS? ✔
What causes IBS? ✔
How common is IBS? ✔
Is IBS curable? ✔
Do stress and anxiety play a part? ✔
Does what I eat make a difference? ✔
This week we’re going to continue our FAQ adventure as we dig into the most common IBS questions people ask me about IBS diagnosis and treatment.
If you suspect that you may have IBS, but you don’t have a diagnosis, it can help to look at IBS risk factors. And if you go to a physician who is knowledgeable about IBS, they will look at these as well. You are at higher risk of IBS if you:
✔ Are young. The onset of IBS is usually before age 50.
✔ Are female. About ⅔ of the 25‒45 million people in the United States who suffer with IBS are women.
✔ Have family members with IBS. Research shows that there may be a genetic component to IBS.
✔ Have mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
If you read last week’s Part I of the IBS FAQs, you already know that there is no definitive test for IBS. That’s because IBS just isn’t that simple. Since it isn’t caused by the presence of a specific pathogen, it doesn’t show up in blood work or other lab tests.
If you have strep throat, you can find out by taking a lab test that detects the streptococcus bacteria. If you have high cholesterol, you probably know because the numbers in your blood work were high according to the standardized charts your doctor looks at. Even more complex conditions like diabetes can be detected with lab tests.
But IBS is different. It’s a multi-factorial condition. This means it has many causes. Different people develop IBS by different means. So you can’t run a lab test — or even a series of them — to get a definitive IBS diagnosis.
That’s part of the reason IBS is so misunderstood, and often missed. But it is possible to get a reliable diagnosis. The key is working with a practitioner who knows what they’re looking for.
IBS is characterized by a group of symptoms. So a diagnosis will rely heavily on what you report to your doctor.
While there is no test that will tell a doctor that you have IBS, there are tests your doctor may use to eliminate other possible conditions that may have similar symptoms to IBS.
Stool test — to detect parasites or bacteria that might be causing your symptoms.
Lower GI series — to look for intestinal blockages.
Blood tests — to look for Celiac Disease, a gluten-related autoimmune disease.
Bacterial overgrowth breath test— SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) is closely related to and often present alongside IBS.
Lactose intolerance tests —to determine whether or not your body produces lactose (the enzyme that breaks down milk sugars).
Colonoscopy — to rule out colon cancer.
CT Scan — to rule out pancreatic or gallbladder problems.
Endoscopic procedures with tissue biopsy — to rule out ulcerative colitis.
Yes. This part of what makes it a complex condition to diagnose and treat. Some IBS patients suffer with chronic diarrhea, plagued by frequent bathroom emergencies. But some people with IBS lean toward the opposite side and struggle with painful constipation. And some people have both issues.
To address these differences, IBS has been broken down into different types:
You guessed it. “D” stands for diarrhea. If your issues tend towards diarrhea at least 25% of the time and your bowel movements land between 6 and 7 on the Bristol Stool Scale, you may have IBS-D.
In this case “C” isn’t for cookie. It’s for constipation. If you experience constipation with 25% of your bowel movements, and they fall between 1 and 2 on the Bristol Stool Scale, then you may have IBS-C.
“M” is for mixed. “A” is for alternating. This means you meet both of the above criteria and suffer with diarrhea and constipation.
Even if you don’t fall into one of the above categories, you may still have IBS. In fact, most people land in the ‘unspecified’ group. This just means that you don’t consistently fall into the 25% range on either constipation or diarrhea.
There are a variety of treatment options available for IBS. But I want to caution you. Treating a condition is not the same as curing it. And while there is no “cure” for IBS, it is possible to figure out the root cause of your symptoms so you can address the underlying problems. And once you improve the underlying issues, symptoms will go away (or at least lessen) on their own. Addressing the root cause — whether it’s SIBO, food sensitivities, or something else — does more than just help you feel better. It helps your body actually get better.
Pharmaceutical treatments often just mask your symptoms. And in the case of IBS, they often don’t even do that very well. There are times when medication makes sense. But treating the symptoms of IBS won’t help reverse the condition or even keep it from getting worse.
In my practice, I get the best results by finding the root cause of the problem, and then helping my clients make dietary and lifestyle changes that both address the underlying issue and help reduce their IBS symptoms.
If you’re struggling with stomach issues — whether you have an IBS diagnosis or not — I’m here to help. This is my specialty. And after working with over 1000 patients, I know how to help people get to the bottom of what’s causing their symptoms and help them feel better FAST. If you’re ready to take some action that will make a big difference in your health, click the button below. I’d love to help.