Doctor Discussion Guide

When you were diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it probably didn't come as a big surprise. After all, the symptoms were troubling enough to send you to a doctor. However, you don't want any more surprises.

Now that your illness has a name, it's time to arm yourself with knowledge. Your first source for that knowledge should be your doctor. Read on for a list of questions you may want to ask.

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What caused my IBS?

It’s natural to want to know why you have IBS, but the specific cause is unknown. It's still worth asking your doctor the question. Your doctor may be able to give you some insight into possible symptom triggers. Understanding your triggers may help you manage your IBS symptoms over the long-term.

Does stress trigger IBS?

Stress may trigger symptoms of IBS. While you can't completely avoid stress, your doctor may be able to recommend some stress-management techniques that are known to help people with IBS.

What is my long-term outlook?

IBS can come and go throughout your life. Your doctor may be able to give you an idea of what you can expect based on your symptoms and general health. Understanding IBS and being proactive can make life a lot easier.

Do I need to see a specialist? How do I find one?

If your general practitioner diagnosed your IBS, you may want to see a doctor who specializes in gastrointestinal disorders. Each case is unique, so ask your primary care doctor if this is necessary. If it is, they can provide you a recommendation. You can also contact the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders for help in finding a doctor.

Will I need medication?

Some prescription medications are used to treat symptoms of IBS. Ask your doctor if you should try one. Don't forget to ask which over-the-counter medicines are safe and effective in treating symptoms. If you take any other medications, ask about possible interactions.

What foods should I avoid?

Your doctor can give you information about common food triggers and how to identify yours. Ask specifically if you should alter your dietary intake of fiber or dairy.

Should I use probiotics?

Some people with IBS use probiotics to relieve symptoms. Probiotics can come in the form of supplements, powders, and in some foods. If you're considering probiotics, ask your doctor which types and how much are best for you.

Where can I get reliable information and support?

There's a lot of bad information out there, so ask your doctor to steer you toward reputable organizations. Many people with IBS find comfort in support groups. Your physician or local hospital can provide a list of contacts in your area.

What to Tell Your Doctor

If you haven't already done so prior to diagnosis, make sure you tell your doctor the following:

  • what over-the-counter medications you take
  • what prescription medications you take
  • other conditions you have
  • previous gastrointestinal tests, procedures, or surgeries

Good information and a good doctor-patient relationship are two of the most helpful assets in caring for your IBS. If your doctor isn't responsive or doesn't allow time for your questions, find a doctor who understands the value of an informed, proactive patient.