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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

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How to Know if You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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.

Recommended Related to Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Living with IBS: One Young Woman's Story

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...

Read the Living with IBS: One Young Woman's Story article > >

Identify Your Symptoms

Your doctor will ask for the details of what's bothering you. He'll compare that with a set of symptoms known as the Rome III Criteria.

To meet the standard, your belly pain or discomfort needs to have been a problem for at least 6 months. And in the last 3 months, you'll have noticed it at least 3 days a month.

You also need to have two of these symptoms:

  • You feel better after having a bowel movement.
  • 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.

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