Your stomach has been feeling crummy for a while now. That pain and cramping comes and goes, but even after a few months, you just can't shake it. You've heard of something called IBS -- or irritable bowel syndrome. Could it be what you've got? And how will your doctor find out?
There are some tests that help figure out what's going on, including a new blood test. But the most common way your doctor makes a diagnosis is with a bit of detective work.
I've had the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome -- a gastrointestinal disorder -- for my whole life, but when I was younger, I didn't realize anything was wrong. My parents thought my cramps, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea were normal because they had similar symptoms. So I thought it was normal, too. As I grew up, I pretty much just coped with it. It was inconvenient, but I did my best.
But three years ago, when I was 27, after having some minor surgery done, I had the worst symptoms ever...
When you have pain or discomfort, your bowel movements are either more or less frequent than usual.
Your stools are harder or softer than usual when you have pain or discomfort.
If this is what you're going through -- and you don't have any red flags for another disease, like blood in your stool, unexplained weight loss, or fever -- your doctor may not need to check further. He may be ready to diagnose you with IBS and start treatment.
But if your symptoms include diarrhea, or if they only started after you turned 50, you may need tests to look for other possible causes. And if you have a family history of other stomach diseases, your doctor will want to rule those out.