Many symptoms that occur together characterize irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This may be confusing because symptoms can change over time. People who are experiencing a range of symptoms are often left wondering - how do I know it’s IBS?
There is a pattern to symptoms of IBS, however, and symptoms that cumulatively support the diagnosis of IBS. Let’s take a look at those symptoms and how IBS is diagnosed.
How Is IBS Diagnosed?
There was a time when IBS was considered a "diagnosis of exclusion," meaning that it was only made after extensive testing had ruled out many other disorders that could cause the same symptoms.
But now doctors take a different approach that bases diagnosis on a defined pattern of symptoms and only limited testing.
Diagnostic testing has its uses, but doctors can typically spot IBS by recognizing specific symptoms and performing a physical exam.
Today's doctors use what is known as the "Rome Criteria" for diagnosing IBS and other GI disorders. The Rome Criteria for IBS looks for recurrent abdominal pain at least once a week in the previous three months, along with at least two of the following:
- Pain related to defecation
- Pain associated with a change in frequency of stool
- Pain associated with a change in the appearance of stool
However, the Rome criteria only really work when there is nothing abnormal in the intestines or the metabolic process that explains the symptoms.
Diagnostic tests may include:
- A complete blood count to look for anemia, as well as tests for tissue damage and celiac disease.
- Stool tests to check for bacterial infection, intestinal parasites or blood in the stool.
- Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, performed when doctors see serious symptoms such as rectal bleeding and weight loss, or to screen for colon cancer after age 50.
- A barium enema, which examines the large bowel using x-rays, although this test has mainly been replaced by colonoscopy.
- Psychological tests, which look for anxiety, depression and other issues which can help supplement the evaluation.
There are also some miscellaneous tests that can be done if any atypical symptoms emerge, such as a capsule endoscopy and colonic transit.
There are also certain red flags that require doctors to consider other disorders before diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome:
- Anemia or other abnormal blood tests
- New onset of symptoms after 50
- Blood in the stools
- Nighttime pain or diarrhea that causes you to awaken
- Unintended weight loss
- Recent antibiotic use
- A family history of other GI illnesses
These symptoms aren't an automatic cause for concern. There may be a benign explanation: rectal bleeding can be the result of hemorrhoids, for example.
What Are Some Symptoms That Supportive An IBS Diagnosis?
Some of the symptoms that support a diagnosis of IBS include:
- More than three bowel movements a day
- Fewer than three bowel movements a week
- Loose or water stools
- Passing mucus (white material) during a bowel movement
- Needing to rush to the bathroom
- Straining during bowel movements
- Feeling of an incomplete bowel movement
- Abdominal swelling, fullness or bloating
If you've been diagnosed with IBS and need help managing your symptoms, Proper Nutriton can help. Our dietary supplements such as Seacure are filled with protein-rich white fish that contain the bioactive peptides your body can use to ease the symptoms of IBS.