If you’re experiencing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may be wondering if it’s time for an appointment to talk about your symptoms and your treatment options. Dealing with IBS doesn’t have to be difficult, and you don’t have to do it alone. Make an appointment to see a doctor, find out what your next steps are, and begin down the path toward treatment and a better quality of life.

Before your appointment

Prepare yourself for your appointment before you even step foot in a doctor’s office. These tips can help:

1. Find a doctor. For IBS treatment, you need to seek out an appointment with a specialist doctor. This doctor is a gastroenterologist, and they primarily treat conditions and diseases that impact the gastrointestinal system.

If you don’t know which doctor you’d like to use, ask for recommendations from your primary care physician or another doctor you trust. If you can’t find a recommendation from a doctor, poll friends and family members for a doctor they have experience with.

2. Create a symptom journal. Your doctor is going to have a lot of questions for you during your visit, and the first question is likely to be, “So what’s going on?” That’s when you should be prepared with details about what you’re experiencing, when you’re experiencing it, and what might make it better.

Start a journal — you can use paper and pen or a note-taking app on a smartphone — and write down what symptoms you experience and when. Try to think back to when the symptoms began. Your doctor will want to know how long you’ve been experiencing these symptoms.

3. Compile a personal health history. In addition to your symptoms, the doctor will want to know a lot about you. Write down as much as you can so you won’t forget during your time with the doctor. Make a list of:

  • any medicines you take
  • any other conditions you’ve been diagnosed with
  • recent changes in your life, such as stress or loss
  • family history of IBS or similar conditions, including colon cancer

If you’ve had any previous appointments about these IBS symptoms, ask for medical records from your previous doctors. The gastroenterologist may find them helpful.

4. Ask a friend to join you. Doctors’ visits can be a bit overwhelming, especially when you’re being presented with a lot of new information. Ask a friend or family member to join you. They can help make sure you get your questions answered. They can also take notes of what the doctor does and says so you can focus on listening to your doctor during the exam.

5. Create a list of questions. Don’t put off thinking about the questions you have until you’re in the doctor’s office. By then, you may be too distracted to remember obscure questions you’ve wanted to ask for a while. Start a list, and add to it each time you think of something.

During your appointment

Bring a notebook, your list of questions, and any medical records. Feeling prepared will help you feel confident to take control of your condition and find answers. Then do the following:

1. Take notes. When your doctor starts discussing treatments and tests, break out a notebook and pen. If you have a friend or family member with you, ask them to take notes while you speak with your doctor. Taking notes will give you a reference in the future. And it will help you remember what was discussed, what you need to do, and what your doctor is going to do next.

2. Present a thorough — but condensed — medical history. Follow your doctor’s prompts for information, but be sure to give as much information as you can as quickly as you can. This is where your symptom journal may come in handy. Jog your memory with your notes, and offer to give a copy of these notes to your doctor.

3. Ask questions. You should be prepared with questions for the doctor to make the most of your appointment. Some questions to ask:

  • Do you know what’s causing my symptoms?
  • If it’s not IBS, what other conditions are you considering?
  • What’s next? What tests are you ordering?
  • When will you get results from these tests?
  • Are there any treatments I can begin now?
  • When will you know if these treatments are effective? At what point do we consider changing treatments?
  • What are the possible side effects from these treatments? How can I stop those side effects?
  • Is my lifestyle affecting my symptoms? What should I change?
  • How do I manage this condition in addition to the other conditions I have?
  • Will I always have this? Or can it be cured?

After your appointment

When you walk out of the doctors’ office, you may have a lot of thoughts swirling in your head, so take a moment before you leave the parking lot to write them down. If you have someone with you, take a few minutes to talk through the appointment. Jot down anything you want to research or any questions you’ve realized you forgot to ask before leaving your doctor. Then do the following:

1. Make appointments. If your doctor requested tests, work with the doctor’s office to schedule an appointment. Many doctors’ offices will make appointments for you with local hospitals or imaging offices, but you may need to follow up after you leave the office to get on the books for a test.

2. Follow up to get results. Once you’ve completed the different tests your doctor ordered, make a follow-up appointment. Ask your doctor for the results of the tests and what they mean for your diagnosis and treatment. Discuss the next steps of care and how you can improve treatment possibilities.

3. Follow treatment suggestions. If the tests were conclusive and you have a diagnosis, work with your doctor to create a treatment plan. If the tests weren’t conclusive, ask for the next steps of diagnosis and treatment.

When your doctor makes treatment suggestions and recommendations, it’s important you follow them closely. Your doctor will monitor how your body responds to the treatment. This information can help them know if the treatment is effective or if you need to revise it.