Are there different types of IBS?
Some IBS patients suffer mostly from constipation, some experience diarrhea, while others have both symptoms at different times. The form of IBS that seems to follow gastroenteritis often leads to persistent diarrhea. Identifying these different types of IBS is important because treatments often work quite differently depending upon whether diarrhea or constipation is the main problem. However, we do know that the pattern of bowel movements can alter over time and this means that your treatment might need to change should your symptoms vary.

Is IBS serious?
Although the symptoms of IBS can be similar to those seen in more serious conditions, once IBS has been diagnosed there is no reason to think that it will develop into anything worse. In particular, patients with IBS are no more likely than anyone else to develop bowel cancer.

What tests confirm a diagnosis of IBS?
Your doctor will want to rule out other diseases, but will probably be able to make a diagnosis based on the symptoms that you describe. On occasion it may be necessary to do simple blood tests to rule out anemia, to make sure the liver and thyroid gland are working properly, and to exclude any evidence of inflammation within the bowel. You might also have a blood test to look for intolerance to wheat (gluten).Furthermore, additional diagnostic tests may include a stool test, lower GI series, flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.

When should I see my doctor?
You may have had symptoms for many years without seeking help from your doctor, and this is fine as long as you are coping well. Obviously, your doctor is there to help you if symptoms become troublesome or interfere with your life. If you develop any of the symptoms below, which are not usually associated with IBS but may be associated with other diseases, contact your doctor:

  • A change in bowel habit – especially if you are over the age of 40
  • Passing blood from the rectum
  • Unintentional weight loss of more than 4 pounds
  • Diarrhea waking you from sleep
  • Fever