Medical History and Physical Examination for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Medical and dietary history
The dietary history will include questions about food allergies and whether your symptoms seem to be related to any particular foods. Foods that most commonly cause symptoms include lactose (milk sugar) and sorbitol, an artificial sweetener found in sugarless chewing gum and other sugar-free products.
The doctor may suggest that for a period of time you try avoiding foods that seem to cause problems, to see if your symptoms get better.
To help determine whether you have irritable bowel syndrome, the doctor will perform a standard physical examination, including:
Why It Is Done
A medical history and physical examination are standard tests for people who have abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits.
Key findings in IBS are abdominal pain that is relieved with a bowel movement and a change in the consistency or number of times per day or week that you have bowel movements. The pain is not limited to one part of the abdomen. It may move around and may come and go. It often occurs or gets worse when you eat. Stress may also be related to abdominal pain.
The abdomen may be swollen if you have gas in the intestines. Your abdomen may be tender when the doctor presses on it. Abnormal bowel sounds may be heard, especially, but not only, if you have diarrhea. You may report symptoms such as an urgent need to have bowel movements or a feeling that you haven't completely emptied the bowel after passing a stool.
A person who has IBS may have constipation more often, diarrhea more often, or constipation that alternates with diarrhea.
All other physical findings should be normal for a diagnosis of IBS.
What To Think About
Because there is no detectable structural problem that causes IBS, if you have a normal physical exam but you do have symptoms of IBS, this strongly suggests that you have irritable bowel syndrome. If your doctor thinks your symptoms may be caused by another problem, he or she may recommend other tests, such as:
Your doctor may recommend other tests not in this list. But if there are no symptoms (such as anemia, rectal bleeding or bloody diarrhea, fever, weight loss, pain that wakes you at night, or recent change in bowel habits) that suggest other intestinal diseases, few additional tests are needed. If these symptoms are present, tests for other problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease or an ulcer, may be needed.
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