A Process of Elimination: Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Tummy troubles are one of those conditions that simply refuse to be ignored. If you are one of those people who must make sure they know where all the restrooms are located when they go out in public – just in case – then you may be familiar with the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
With health experts estimating that one form of IBS or another affects between 3 and 20 percent of the population (an unusually wide range), it’s clear that even the experts may be having some difficulty putting their finger on the cause of all those troubled intestines. Though a precise cause eludes the medical community, it is generally agreed that IBS symptoms occur whenever there is a breakdown in communication between the brain and the intestinal tract. Yes, smart people with advanced degrees came up with that one.
The good news is that IBS occurs more often in women. Of course, that is only good news if you are a man. At least if you are over 35 and have never experienced the symptoms of IBS, you may be in the clear; because according to Dr. John P. Cunha, in half of all IBS cases, onset occurs before the age of 35. Wait, if onset occurs prior to age 35 in half the cases of IBS, doesn’t that mean that in the other half of cases onset occurs after age 35? It may be safer to say that IBS can strike at any age and leave it at that.
Similar Symptoms, Different Conditions
Complicating the matter is the fact that the list of symptoms used to diagnose IBS is eerily similar to the list of the symptoms of other diseases and conditions.
Given the absence of any outward physical signs that can definitively diagnose the condition, the Rome criteria has been used for years as an aid in diagnosing IBS. You may find yourself on the receiving end of an IBS diagnosis if you fit the following profile:
You have abdominal pain and discomfort that lasts for at least 12 weeks; interestingly, those 12 weeks do not have to be in a row.
You’ll need to have at least two of these symptoms:
- A change in the frequency or consistency of your stool
- Straining, urgency or a feeling of an inability to empty your bowels completely
- Mucus in your stool
- Bloating or abdominal distension
IBS May Not Be the Final Answer
IBS symptoms can present the same as those of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Both have diarrhoea and abdominal pain. IBS symptoms are also remarkably similar to those of Celiac disease, a sensitivity to wheat. Even something as simple as lactose intolerance can bring on the problems associated with IBS. Instead of undergoing long-term treatment for IBS, wouldn’t it be nice to know that all you had to do was stop eating wheat or dairy?
The list of other conditions with similar symptoms to that of IBS is long, from spastic colon to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In order to diagnose any of these other conditions, however, your doctor will need to conduct further tests. For example, a diagnosis of Celiac disease will require a blood test.
One possibility that could account for the wildly varying numbers estimating those who suffer from IBS is misdiagnosis. Could it be that some of those patients who are being treated for IBS and not seeing any improvement in their condition may in reality be suffering from a different disease with similar symptoms? It is something to think about.
It can also be said that unless you have a health insurance plan that includes extras cover, then the medical expenses associated with diagnostic tests could soon run into the hundreds, if not thousands. So, really, it’s in most people’s best interest to know where they stand in regards to their health cover. And more than that, if you don’t feel that you’re being taken care of on your health policy, you shouldn’t have to settle either. There are plenty of options out there, and taking a look at comparison sites like comparethemarket.com.au can help steer you in the right direction.
A misdiagnosis of IBS could mean that a much more serious condition will go untreated. For instance, inflammatory bowel disease will cause repeated periods of gastrointestinal tract inflammation, or worse – something like Meckel’s diverticulum. This can lead to severe complications, such as heightened risks of intestinal obstruction and even colon cancer.