Updated: Sep 6
I hear this story time and time again from my clients, and have even experienced it myself:
You suffer from daily digestive issues that are very disruptive to your life, and nothing you do seems to make it better. So, you go to your doctor, who then runs some tests (if you're lucky), all of which come back "normal". the doc then calls to tell you that there's nothing wrong, "it's just IBS".
In this blog, I will discuss why it's important to keep looking for answers beyond an IBS diagnosis.
WHAT DOES AN IBS DIAGNOSIS ACTUALLY MEAN?
In my experience working with people who have just received an IBS diagnosis, very few know what it actually means. IBS is technically defined by the Rome IV criteria, established for research purposes but also often used in clinical practice:
Recurrent abdominal pain, on average, at least 1 day per week in the last 3 months, associated with 2 or more of the following criteria: – Related to defecation – Associated with a change in frequency of stool – Associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool Criteria fulfilled for the last 3 months with symptom onset at least 6 months before diagnosis
Considering how broad and nonspecific the criteria is, it’s no surprise that in Western countries, including New Zealand and Australia, approximately 10% of the general population fulfills the Rome IV criteria for IBS.
Certain red flag symptoms such as gastrointestinal bleeding, unexplained weight loss, and age were selected to be used as referral guidelines for further medical testing (e.g. colonoscopy) to rule out colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. Meaning everything else was left on the table and lumped into IBS.
IBS is then generally treated with laxatives, antidiarrheals, proton pump inhibitors, and in some cases, a low FODMAP diet.
The problem with this is that although these treatments may help to reduce symptoms in the short-term, we now know that they actually contribute to further gut dysfunction in the long-term, and it doesn't address the real root cause.
The fact is, when the IBS diagnostic/treatment system came out, we knew very little about the gut, particularly the gut microbiome, which we now know plays a profound role in our health and longevity. Thanks to these recent scientific advances, we can now identify and treat many gastrointestinal disorders, triggers and imbalances responsible for IBS symptoms.
WHY DOESN'T MY DOCTOR LOOK FURTHER?
You may be wondering, well hang on, my Doctor spend years in medical school, why don't they dig deeper? There are a couple of different reasons for this. Firstly, modern medicine is designed to treat symptoms, not find and treat the underlying cause (unless life threatening). Secondly, 'Gut Health' is a whole new world, and many Doctors simply do not keep up with all the latest research. Conditions like SIBO are certainly becoming more recognised as an underlying cause for IBS symptoms, but testing and treatment is still not considered "standard practice", so unless your Doctor is an expert in the field, their knowledge is likely to be limited.
THE ACTUAL CAUSE(S) OF IBS
The last decade has brought with it a whole host of research on gut health and the identification of specific diseases and disorders. The sooner you can get a proper diagnosis, the sooner you can get to treating the underlying root cause and get back to living a normal life.
I will go into specific conditions in depth in future blog posts, but for now, to summarise: Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), out of balance gut microbiome, gut infections (parasites, bacteria and yeast), and nervous system dysregulation are all common underlying causes for IBS. All of which are completely treatable, but what's concerning is that we know that all of these conditions are also associated with more serious chronic health conditions.
For those diagnosed with IBS and for whom no effective treatment is provided, the risk of developing secondary conditions such as thyroid or adrenal issues, autoimmunity, and mental health conditions increases, making finding and treating the root cause that much more important.
MORE ACCURATE AND RELIABLE TESTING
In the past, many practitioners preferred to give a diagnosis of IBS than send their patients for expensive and unreliable tests. Fortunately, there are now a number of diagnostic tests with significant supporting research that allows us to accurately test for and diagnose specific conditions, thus removing the need for an IBS label. These include advances in stool testing that now uses DNA technology to identify previously undetected harmful bacteria and parasites as well as the improved reliability and understanding of hydrogen and methane breath testing.
If you have IBS, I recommend finding a functional practitioner who has experience specifically in finding the root cause of IBS, not just managing symptoms with things like a low FODMAP diet. They will help you to identify and treat your specific underlying causes, and get you back to a normal, balanced diet and life!
Getting to this root cause is the only way you will truly break free from your IBS diagnosis, and is the best thing you can do to avoid further gut dysfunction and health issues in the future.
If you're ready to start your gut healing journey today and want all the tools, support and knowledge to ensure your success, book a free 20 minute discovery call with me today.