Irritable bowel disease (IBS) is a digestive health condition characterized by frequent abdominal pain and alternating or irregular bowel habits. IBS symptoms often overlap with the symptoms of other digestive health conditions, which can make diagnosis difficult.

An endoscopy may help rule out conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. While an endoscopy can’t diagnose IBS, it can be useful in narrowing down the possible symptom causes.

An endoscopy is a medical procedure in which a medical professional inserts a long, thin tube (called an endoscope) into the body.

The tube has a small camera attached to the end, which allows the doctor to get a detailed look at an organ or an area inside the body. An endoscope can be inserted through an opening in the body, such as the mouth, nose, anus, or ear, or through a small incision.

An endoscopy can be used to diagnose a wide variety of conditions and can also be used to perform minimally invasive surgery.

There are several types of endoscopy. Different endoscopies help doctors see and treat different parts of the body. For example, a bronchoscopy is used to examine the lower respiratory tract, while a colonoscopy is used to view the large intestines (colon).

Endoscopies can help diagnose many digestive conditions. For instance, they’re commonly used to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, endoscopies aren’t standard testing to confirm a diagnosis of IBS.

An endoscopy can’t diagnose IBS. However, your doctor might order one as part of an IBS diagnostic process. This is because an endoscopy can help rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms.

Although an endoscopy can’t diagnose IBS, it can be used to diagnose IBD. It’s very easy to confuse these two conditions, but IBS and IBD aren’t the same.

IBD is a term used for both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions cause inflammation and damage to the bowels that can be seen with an endoscopy.

Although IBS causes bowel symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation, it doesn’t involve inflammation of the bowels.

If your doctor orders an endoscopy to help diagnose IBS, it’s to rule out IBD and other conditions with overlapping symptoms. The type of endoscopy you have may include one or more of the following:

  • Upper endoscopy: An upper endoscopy looks at the upper part of your gastrointestinal tract. It’s done by inserting an endoscopic tube through the mouth and down the throat.
  • Colonoscopy: During a colonoscopy, a doctor inserts the endoscopy tube through the anus to examine the full length of the large intestine.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: A sigmoidoscopy is also inserted through the anus in order to examine the lower part of the large intestine.

Your doctor will use the results of these tests, along with the results of other tests, to help make a diagnosis of your symptoms.

The endoscopy procedure for IBS symptoms

In most cases, an endoscopy is an outpatient procedure. If you don’t want to be awake for the procedure, you can ask to be sedated. The sedative drug you’ll be given will make you feel very relaxed and sleepy for about 30 to 60 minutes. As a result, you’ll likely not be aware of any part of the procedure.

If you’re having an upper endoscopy done, the doctor will insert an endoscope down your throat, into your esophagus, stomach, and possibly into the upper part of your small intestine. If you’re having a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, an endoscope will be inserted into your anus and then into your large intestine (colon).

The camera on the end of the tube will look for signs such as:

  • inflammation of the digestive tract
  • irritation of the lining of the digestive tract
  • peptic ulcers (upper endoscopy)
  • infections
  • precancerous conditions

The procedure will likely take about 20 to 30 minutes. You’ll be very drowsy right after the procedure and will need to have a trusted person drive you home.

There’s no one test that confirms an IBS diagnosis. Instead, your doctor will look at your medical history and symptoms. They’ll also do a physical exam to check for abdominal swelling or tenderness.

IBS has a set of diagnostic criteria. Your symptoms must meet these criteria for IBS to be diagnosed. The criteria set for IBS is called the Rome criteria.

According to the Rome criteria, IBS may be diagnosed if you’ve had stomach pain and discomfort at least 4 days a month for at least 2 months and one or more of the following is true:

  • You experience pain while moving your bowels.
  • There’s been a change in how often you move your bowels.
  • There’s been a change in the consistency of your stool.

Assessing whether your symptoms meet these criteria is the most useful tool for diagnosing IBS.

Your doctor might order tests that help rule out other conditions, such as celiac disease, lactose intolerance, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth. These tests generally involve blood and stool samples.

Symptoms of IBS can vary from person to person. Some people may have mild symptoms, while other people may have more severe symptoms. Typically, IBS symptoms are chronic (long term) and happen frequently. Symptoms of IBS often include:

  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • any change to the typical consistency of stools
  • any change to the frequency of bowel movements
  • stomach pain
  • stomach cramping
  • bloating
  • mucus in stools
  • feeling as if there’s more stool to pass even when you’ve just completed a bowel movement

Some of these symptoms can be signs of a mild upset stomach or bacterial infection. It’s common to have occasional digestive symptoms that resolve on their own after a few days. However, if you’ve had any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor.

An endoscopy is often used to diagnose digestive health conditions, such as IBD. However, while an endoscopy is sometimes used as part of the IBS diagnostic process, it can’t confirm a diagnosis of IBS on its own.

IBS is diagnosed when other conditions are ruled out and when specific diagnostic criteria are met. These criteria include abdominal pain and a change to the frequency or‌ consistency of bowel movements.

If you have any concerning digestive symptoms that have lasted for more than a couple of weeks, you may want to follow up with your doctor to determine the cause of your symptoms and to get the right treatment.