Understanding Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Patients seen by a gastroenterology provider will often comment, “I was told years ago that I have IBS, but I’ve never been tested for it!”  Despite the fact that “IBS” is a familiar term, there are many misconceptions about the disorder.  Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a familiar chief complaint seen by gastroenterologists.  Studies suggest that roughly 10% of people in North America have IBS and that the disorder accounts for 25-50% of all referrals to gastroenterologists.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is a functional disorder of the GI tract that is characterized by abdominal pain and altered bowel habits.  The most common symptom of IBS is crampy abdominal pain which will often vary in intensity, duration, and location.  A symptom that is rather typical of IBS is abdominal pain that is relieved with a bowel movement.  Some patients will have constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C) while others will have diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D).

What causes IBS?

There is a clear correlation between stress/anxiety and patients with IBS. Studies suggested that IBS is more common in women and younger populations.  Certain foods that will commonly elicit IBS symptoms include dairy products, gluten, and certain fruits such as apples, mangoes, and pears.

How do I get tested for IBS?

A definitive diagnostic lab test for IBS does not exist.  IBS cannot be seen on an ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, or colonoscopy.  Patients who see a gastroenterologist for abdominal pain will often have testing and imaging (most commonly an ultrasound or a CT scan) completed to rule out other causes of abdominal pain.  For patients who have diarrhea-predominant symptoms, a GI provider may decide to perform testing to rule out conditions such as celiac disease, microscopic colitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or an infection.

How is IBS treated?

For patients who have mild, infrequent IBS symptoms that do not significantly affect their quality of life, lifestyle and diet modifications are normally recommended.  A FODMAP diet is a frequently recommended diet for patients with mild IBS symptoms.

FODMAP foods to suitable for diet with IBSFODMAP foods to eliminate from diet if have IBS

For patients who have a significant amount of bloating, it is often helpful to avoid foods that increase gas production such as beans, bananas, Brussels sprouts, caffeine, and dairy products. Patients who exhibit moderate to severe IBS symptoms, or daily symptoms, will often benefit from medications and/or a bowel regimen.

When should I see a gastroenterologist?

There are a variety of symptoms that warrant evaluation by a gastroenterologist.  IBS is not often a “new problem” for patients who are age 50 or older.  If you are over 50 and have never had IBS symptoms in the past but are currently experiencing symptoms, evaluation by a gastroenterologist is warranted.  Other symptoms that are NOT consistent with IBS include rectal bleeding, black stools, weight loss, decreased appetite, diarrhea or abdominal pain that wakes you up from sleep at night, or iron deficiency anemia.  If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please schedule an office visit with your gastroenterologist.


Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with IBS?

  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Spencer Martin is a physician assistant at Digestive Health Specialists, PA working out of Kernersville and Winston-Salem, NC.
By Spencer Martin, PA-C
Physician Assistant at Digestive Health Specialists. He works at our Kernersville and Winston-Salem locations. 
Learn more about him here: https://digestivehealth.ws/provider/spencer-martin-pa-c/


Digestive Health Specialists, PA is here to help if you, or someone you know, would like more information, or if you are experiencing any digestive health symptoms and would like further evaluation. Feel free to give us a call at 336-768-6211 or fill the form below.

  • The actual appointment date is subject to availability.
    MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • The actual appointment time is subject to availability.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.