How Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diagnosed?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects the large intestine. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders estimates that 10 to 15 percent of people worldwide have IBS.

Symptoms of IBS are sometimes painful—they include cramping, stomach pain, gas, diarrhea and constipation. However, because these symptoms are associated with numerous other medical conditions and because there are no definitive physical signs of IBS, the IBS diagnosis process can be complex.

Here’s what you need to know about getting diagnosed with IBS:

Male senior patient visiting a doctor

Ruling Out Other Conditions

Before your doctor can diagnose you with IBS, he or she will likely run tests for other conditions that can cause the same bowel-related symptoms.

For example, Celiac disease, a condition where the body has an adverse reaction to gluten, can cause stomach pain, flatulence, diarrhea and other symptoms similar to IBS. The same holds true for lactose intolerance and other bowel conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Additionally, depending on your family history and symptoms, your doctor may choose to run tests to check for certain cancers, such as bowel cancer.

Once other bowel-related conditions are ruled out, you are one step closer to an IBS diagnosis.

Additional Tests Used in IBS Diagnosis

After other medical conditions are off the table, your doctor will likely choose to run a few additional tests to see if you meet the criteria for IBS. Many doctors will order a stool test, as this will allow them to rule out any bacteria or parasite-caused illnesses.

Several other tests may aid in the diagnostic process, including:

  • A colonoscopy.
  • X-rays.
  • A physical exam.

Matching Up Your Criteria

As mentioned, there are no definitive tests to diagnose IBS, so your doctor will ultimately assess your symptoms and any other factors to make the diagnosis. The Mayo Clinic explains that there are two commonly used sets of diagnostic criteria for IBS, and the more symptoms you have present, the more likely you’ll be diagnosed with the condition.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, consult with your doctor or set up a gastroenterology consultation. You should not try to self-diagnose IBS or any other digestive condition, as your symptoms may point to a more serious disease that requires medical treatment—IBS diagnosis can be complicated, so leave it to the pros!