Here’s what we’re going to cover
This is a really complicated question, much more than you’d think, and we get this question a lot. IBS is surprisingly common, but also surprisingly variable. And that’s why it’s confusing. Let’s talk about how variable it is. We see a lot of IBS. In fact, we’re the only place I know of that truly specializes only in IBS. But how do we know it’s IBS?
The Various Symptoms of IBS
There are so many symptoms of IBS that it gets a bit crazy.
There might be pain, but there might not be pain. And when there is pain it can be anywhere in the abdominal area, and it can be occasional, or constant. It can be once a day, or once a month, or even less. And the pain can be mild, or dull and achy, or really severe, or sharp and stabbing. It can even put you in the hospital.
You can have diarrhea, or can not have diarrhea.
Or it could be loose stools that you don’t think of as diarrhea.
You can have constipation, or not have constipation. Or you can have incomplete bowel movements that never seem to completely evacuate. Or rabbit pellets, or stools like mud.
You could have alternating diarrhea AND constipation.
Or you could have neither diarrhea nor constipation, but have normal bowel movements and just abdominal pain.
Or no abdominal pain and just diarrhea.
Or no abdominal pain and just constipation.
You could have lots of super stinky gas, or no gas at all.
And you could have tremendous bloating, or no bloating.
You could mucous in your stool, or no mucous in your stool. And some people even just pass mucous sometimes and nothing else.
And sometimes with IBS you even get some blood in your stool. But not usually.
And those are just the most common symptoms. There are many more.
You might have weight loss.
But you could have weight gain.
And you might be hungry all the time.
Or you might feel full all the time and never be hungry.
Or your appetite might be perfectly normal.
You might have nausea, or heartburn, or reflux, or hemorrhoids, or all kinds of things that I’m forgetting because there are so many problems that IBS can cause, even non-digestive issues, that I can’t remember them all. But I’m sure you’ll ask me about them, or share your stories about your symptoms. And please do.
Also, I’ve got lots of other videos on how IBS can cause things like back pain and bladder problems and on and on, so look for those on my channel.
What All Cases Of IBS Have In Common
But here’s what all cases of IBS have in common. You go to the gastroenterologist, and they do some testing and a colonoscopy and basically find nothing other than maybe a polyp or maybe some inflammation, neither of which is going to help you much. Or you end up with a diagnosis like microscopic colitis, or collagenous colitis, or lymphocytic colitis, or eosinophilic esophagitis, or just plain old colitis, all of which I consider subsets of IBS because they are symptoms, not causes, and they respond just as well to our treatment program as people with just plain old IBS.
So what did your regular doctor and the gastroenterologist do? They mostly ruled out a lot of other things, like cancers and gynecological issues and IBD (Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease). Which is valuable and great, but it doesn’t help you get better if you don’t have those. They aren’t experts in IBS.
And that’s how you know that you have IBS! It’s mostly a process of elimination.
There is no test for IBS, and there never will be. Because it’s a symptom.
It’s not something you can test for. But that won’t stop companies from trying to sell IBS tests to you. Just ignore them. They’re useless.
The Good News
Once you know that you have IBS, there is good news. Because now you know what to do next. You need to work with an IBS Specialist, which is the specialty I created in 2005 because there wasn’t one. That’s how you solve IBS. It’s not impossible, it’s just that you haven’t worked with the right specialist yet. And although we’re rare, it’s not as hard to find one as you might think, because we routinely work with patients all over the US and the world via telehealth, and we’ve been doing that since 2005.
If you found this video helpful, please give us a thumbs up. And to learn more about IBS be sure to subscribe to my channel.
So do you think that you have IBS?
Dr. Stephen Wangen is the award winning author of two books on solving digestive disorders, and a nationally recognized speaker on IBS. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio. He was recently named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.