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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) health centre

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Tests for irritable bowel syndrome

The symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be all that's needed to confirm a diagnosis of IBS.

There is no specific test for irritable bowel syndrome. However, according to NICE guidelines, a doctor can consider a diagnosis of IBS if the person’s abdominal pain or bloating is relieved after passing stools from the bowels; if the pain or bloating occurs along with diarrhoea or constipation; or if stools are being passed more frequently than normal - and if there are two of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal bloating, distension, tension or hardness
  • Symptoms are made worse by eating
  • There is passing of mucous when opening the bowels
  • There is a change in the bowel habits, such as urgency, straining or incomplete evacuation when passing stools

Other symptoms, such as lethargy, nausea, backache and bladder symptoms, can be used to support a diagnosis.

The GP may also arrange blood and stool tests to exclude other conditions, including:

Faecal calprotectin test

The faecal calprotectin test was approved by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in autumn 2013 to distinguish between IBS and IBD. It is also hoped the test will reduce misdiagnosis of serious bowel disorders, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

The new test of a person's poo or stool sample measures the levels of calprotectin, which are raised when the bowel is inflamed.

The test should shorten the diagnosis time and reduce the numbers of invasive procedures such as colonoscopy.

Are further IBS tests necessary?

If you have 'red flag' symptoms - such as unexplained weight loss, bleeding from your anus, anaemia or a swelling or lump in your abdomen or back passage - or if there is a family history of bowel cancer or ovarian cancer, or you are over 60 years old and changes in your bowel habits have occurred for more than 6 weeks, your GP may arrange for further tests which may include:

Sigmoidoscopy - A sigmoidoscope, a thin flexible tube with a small camera on one end, may be used to examine your rectum and the lower section of your bowel.

Colonoscopy - a colonoscope, which is similar to a sigmoidoscope, can be used to examine your entire bowel.

Ultrasound scan - this uses high frequency sound waves to show images of the intra- abdominal organs such as the liver and gall bladder, or of the pelvic organs such as the uterus (womb).

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 04, 2013

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