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.
Doctors don’t know for sure what causes irritable bowel syndrome, but some things seem to make people more likely to have it than others. These risk factors for IBS include:
Being a woman. About twice as many women as men have the condition. It’s not clear why, but some researchers think the changing hormones in the menstrual cycle may have something to do with it.
Age. IBS can affect people of all ages, but it's more likely for people in their teens through their 40s.
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.
Blood Test for IBS
Doctors may soon have a new option to help them decide if it's irritable bowel syndrome -- a test called IBSchek.
It works by looking for antibodies that show up in your blood after an episode of food poisoning, which researchers believe can trigger IBS.
The test can help confirm the disease if your main symptom is diarrhea. But scientists are still studying how well the test works when constipation is your chief complaint.
One thing to keep in mind: Sometimes the results are inconclusive. Your doctor may need to do more tests to find the root cause of your symptoms.