An estimated 10-15 percent of American adults suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, only half of those people receive a diagnosis and seek medical attention. Proper diagnosis from a medical professional is important for getting effective treatment and relief.

IBS is a collection of symptoms, not a clearly defined physical condition. Symptoms vary from one person to the next. This makes IBS difficult to diagnose. To help make a proper diagnosis, your doctor may use a variety of tests.

Read more: What do you want to know about IBS? »

Your doctor will begin by compiling your complete medical history and performing a physical examination. To learn more about your health, they will ask you questions about:

  • possible stressors in your life
  • past or current infections
  • past or current symptoms
  • family history of the condition
  • medications that might make your symptoms worse

It’s important to tell your doctor when your symptoms started and how frequently you experience them. This will help identify patterns between your behavior and discomfort.

Read more: Types of IBS »

Your doctor may order a variety of diagnostic tests if you’re experiencing severe or additional symptoms such as weight loss, anemia, and blood in your stool. Although these tests are not required for a diagnosis of IBS, they can rule out other potentially serious conditions.

Blood Test

A blood test can help rule out the possibility of celiac disease. This a wheat allergy that produces symptoms similar to IBS such as cramping and intestinal distress.

Stool Test

A stool sample can check for the presence of blood or parasites, which can indicate infection.

Lower GI Series

For this test, your doctor uses an X-ray of your intestines to check for possible blockages. Before the test, your doctor will insert barium into your intestines through a tube in your anus. Barium is a liquid that makes the intestines more visible on the X-ray.

You’re usually required to undergo a liquid diet and enema before the examination. A sedative can help you relax during the procedure. You may have some discomfort and discolored stools for a day or two after this exam.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy or Colonoscopy

These tests allow your doctor to view your rectum and colon with a small camera attached to a thin tube. The tube is gently inserted into your anus. As with the lower GI series test, this test usually requires a liquid diet and enema before examination. Taking a sedative may also be an option.

Your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy to rule out the possibility of colon cancer if you fall into a certain risk group based on age, race, or family history.

CT Scan

A CT scan of your pelvic region can help rule out other possible causes of your discomfort, such as pancreatic or gall bladder problems.

Lactose Intolerance Tests

If you’re unable to digest dairy products, you may experience symptoms similar to IBS, such abdominal bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Lactose intolerance can be diagnosed through a breath test or by eliminating dairy products from your diet for several weeks.

Causes of IBS aren’t always clear, so diagnosis can be difficult. A proper diagnosis is crucial for proper treatment. It will also rule out other diseases and conditions.

Common IBS treatments include diet and lifestyle changes, medication, supplements, and mental health therapies.

There are many tests and methods used to diagnose IBS. Be sure to talk to your doctor about which are best for you.

Read more: IBS: Your guide to tailoring treatment »