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Alyssa Simpson RD, CDE, CLT
Alyssa Simpson

RDN, CLT​

Think You Might Have IBS? Here’s How To Find Out For Sure

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registered dietitian weight loss tips

IBS — inflammatory bowel syndrome — can turn your life upside down. If you’re dealing with the common symptoms, you know what I’m talking about.

Many Of My Patients Come To Me And Describe Scenarios Like:

? Being afraid to eat because they never know how their body will react to the food

? Starting the day off okay, but spending the afternoon so bloated and uncomfortable they can’t even button their pants

? Living with painful constipation, seeing days go by without a complete BM

? Unpredictable diarrhea that keeps them home, instead of enjoying their life

If any of this sounds familiar, you may be one of the up to 20% of Americans that suffer with symptoms of IBS.

Unfortunately, nearly half of people who live with these scenarios day in and day out never even get diagnosed.

Countless patients have come into my practice frustrated and discouraged because they couldn’t find the answers they were looking for. They were told:

? “Your test results were fine. There’s nothing wrong with you.”

? “You’re just stressed. Try relaxing more.”

? “This happens when you get older. Just hope for more good days than bad.”

I have no doubt that there are thousands of people suffering with IBS who have no idea, and no hope. 

The medical system is based on science and test results. And that’s a good thing! The problem is that there is no one test to diagnose IBS. So it often gets missed, or at least, misunderstood.

With many conditions your doctor draws blood or urine, and then they compare your results to averages and charts to determine a diagnosis. 

IBS isn’t like that. There isn’t an “IBS test”. IBS is a collection of symptoms, so it’s more difficult to diagnose. And if you see a physician who isn’t well-informed, you’re likely to walk away with the wrong diagnosis, or no diagnosis at all.

But you’re not crazy. IBS is real. And there are ways to know FOR SURE if you have it.

IBS Symptoms

IBS is characterized by specific symptoms over a period of time. 

I can’t diagnose you in an article. But, let’s take a look at the symptoms of IBS. If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms consistently, it might be time to see a practitioner who understands this condition and can help you feel better.

? Belly pain

? Constipation

? Diarrhea

? Constipation and diarrhea

? Cramping that typically subsides after a bowel movement

? Gas and bloating

? Feeling like your bowel movement isn’t finished

? Mucus in your stools

If you’re experiencing these symptoms regularly, It’s a good idea to take note in a journal so you can give a detailed account to your practitioner.

What Causes IBS?

Researchers don’t know precisely what causes IBS. And the cause likely varies from person to person. Some theories include:

Dysmotility — When your GI muscles have problems moving food at the right speed.

Visceral hypersensitivity — When the nerves in the GI tract are overly sensitive.

Brain-gut dysfunction — When the nerves that connect your brain and gut have communication problems.

Testing For IBS

As I mentioned above, there is no specific test that can diagnose IBS. But, there are tests that can help your practitioner arrive at that diagnosis.

First your practitioner will look at IBS risk factors. you are at higher risk for IBS if you:

✔ Are young. IBS occurs most often in people under 50.

✔ Are female. IBS is more common among women. 

✔ Have a family history of IBS. There is evidence that IBS may have a genetic component.

✔ Have depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems. There may be a connection between past trauma, mental health, and IBS.

Once your practitioner considers your risk factors and symptoms, they may look for other conditions that also present IBS-like. Sometimes these symptoms can indicate other problems and conditions. So some practitioners will run tests to eliminate other possibilities. These tests include:

? Blood tests — Some IBS symptoms can also be caused by Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease related to gluten.

? Stool test — Digestive issues can also be caused by parasites or bacteria, which can be detected in your stool.

? Lower GI series — This is an X-ray of your intestines to make sure you don’t have a blockage.

? Colonoscopy — This test is used to rule out colon cancer.

? CT Scan — This scan is used to rule out pancreatic or gallbladder problems.

? Lactose intolerance tests — If you don’t produce lactase (the enzyme that breaks down the sugar in dairy products), you may have problems similar to those caused by IBS.

? Breath test for bacterial overgrowth — SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) causes similar symptoms to IBS. And in fact, SIBO and IBS often happen together.

? Endoscopic procedures with tissue biopsy — This (and other tests including blood and stool tests) may be used to rule out a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis.

Once Your Practitioner Has Ruled Out These Other Possible Conditions, They Will Look At Your Symptoms And Determine If You Have IBS. Then They Can Narrow It Down To The Type Of IBS You Are Dealing With.

? IBS C — Most of your poop is hard and lumpy (c for constipation).

? IBS-D — Most of your poop is loose and watery (d for diarrhea).

? IBS-M — You have both hard and lumpy bowel movements and loose and watery movements on the same day (m for mixed).

IBS Treatment

Once you have your IBS diagnosis, there are different treatment options available. Some are better than others.

In my practice, I ALWAYS look for the root cause of my clients’ symptoms. Then we can treat the issues that are causing the symptoms in the first place. But not everyone does this. 

Watch Out For Doctors Who Want To Prescribe Medications That Reduce Symptoms Without Addressing The Underlying Problem.

There are times when medication is appropriate, but treating the symptoms of a condition does nothing to help reverse or prevent the condition from getting worse. Symptoms are your body’s way of telling you that something’s wrong. The key to eliminating your symptoms lies in finding that underlying cause. Then you can address the problem, and the symptoms will go away (or at least lessen) on their own.

There are non-pharmaceutical ways to address IBS. In my practice, I’ve had amazing success with addressing diet and lifestyle. Next week we’ll start digging into the nitty gritty of foods that might be contributing to your IBS symptoms.

If you need a practitioner who understands and can help you address your stomach issues (IBS, SIBO, etc.) by looking at the root cause , you’ve found one! 

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