How do you check if you have IBS?

Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

18 June 2022

How do you check if you have IBS?

Whilst there is no test to definitely diagnose IBS, doctors will rule out more serious digestive conditions before making a diagnosis. However, even if diagnosed, there is no 'universal cure'. This means the best approach is to understand your own individual symptoms, plus likely causes, in order to manage IBS through diet, lifestyle and supplements.

How can IBS be diagnosed?

People assume knowing if they have IBS or not is the main goal. Firstly, your doctor will rule out other potentially more serious digestive conditions. So, this can include IBD and that includes Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis, for example. Then they might also rule out things like Coeliac's disease, which would need to be quite carefully managed and can be quite serious.

Then, further to this, they would perhaps introduce something like the Rome IV criteria; and that's looking a bit more into the symptoms. So, how your symptoms present themselves, and then they would potentially make an IBS diagnosis.

But the problem with even an official IBS diagnosis, is; actually, IBS is such a general term; it's an umbrella term and the symptoms themselves can be really quite varied within that larger 'IBS umbrella.' So even if you were to get a diagnosis of IBS, sometimes you'll read online that 'there's no cure' it could be 'lifelong' but really, but we really mean here is there's no universal cure and this is where it's really important to understand that IBS needs to be managed in on an individual basis; because those symptoms can be so wide, and so varied.

However, we can certainly manage the symptoms through diet, lifestyle and supplements and I'm here to outline some of my top ways you can do this.

1. Calm an initial flare up

Quite often people get in touch with us here at A.Vogel when they are struggling with their symptoms and sometimes understandably, people would like something to quite quickly calm symptoms. Longer-term, of course, we really want to try and get to the root of the problem; what's really underlying, but of course, something initially is often useful.

So, this is where I would often recommend something like Silicol Gel. So, this is indicated for the relief of IBS-type symptoms, including flatulence, discomfort, diarrhoea-type symptoms; so, it is often very good for promoting some calm initially, and manage some of the key symptoms.

I quite often recommend a course of Silicol for a couple of weeks; it can be taken longer term if it helps, but I personally like to see the Silicol Gel as a bit of an initial first step, to calm those symptoms, and then we can delve a little deeper in terms of the root cause.

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2. Consider your symptoms

The IBS symptoms you experience can be really quite individual. Of course, there will be some overlap, but many of the symptoms, I really want you to consider for you as an individual and identify what your main symptoms are.

So, you could be affected by upper digestive symptoms such as acid reflux, indigestion or heartburn, for example, or there could be constipation-dominant symptoms; or diarrhoea-dominant symptoms. Or indeed, there could be a bit of a mix of those; alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhoea is a common scenario too.

Interestingly, if there are those characteristic alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhoea, quite often the constipation is at the root of the cause, so that would be a key area to focus on. In this case, having a really good focus in terms of your diet, lifestyle and supplements to help target the constipation can help.

Then, going one step further and considering the root underlying causes of your specific symptoms, and this can often include stress. Stress and IBS are very closely related. Again, when it comes to stress, this can be quite individual, but that might be an area for you, as an individual, that you identify as an area you need to target, which in turn, could make a big difference

Antibiotic use is another important consideration. And this can include historic or current antibiotics. As much as antibiotics are needed in some cases, they will inevitably affect the balance of good bacteria in your gut. And this thing can go on to create symptoms relating to IBS, in some cases.

3. Up your water

Regardless of your symptoms, whether they're constipation or diarrhoea-dominant, water for me is always a must. So, for people who suffer more from diarrhoea, they might worry that drinking more water could mean that they're going to the toilet more often, but this is absolutely not the case and your large intestine is very good at absorbing sufficient water back into your system.

If you are having diarrhoea or looser bowel movements frequently (stress can be a factor but quite often it suggests that something in your gut is irritated) your gut flushing water through to make your stools looser, is your body's way to try and get rid of what's irritating the gut, and in this case, we would need to replenish that water and absolutely, by introducing more water you wouldn't be making that situation any worse. Please, not if altered bowel movements or diarrhoea is ongoing, you should always check this with your doctor.

So, water is an absolute must for supporting your digestion and especially in the diarrhoea states, it can be really helpful for trying to promote some of that movement (in case there is underlying constipation also adding to the diarrhoea vicious cycle!). But obviously, water is also extremely usual in more obvious constipation states. And what I would say too, is to try and separate your water from your meals by at least 15 minutes, because we want to retain those lovely strong gastric juices.

In terms of gastric secretions in your stomach, we want that pH to be maintained nice and low so you can really break down and absorb all your nutrients, and this is leading me into my fourth point, to introduce some bitter herbs.

4. Try bitter herbs

In many cases, some digestive insufficiency can be underlying in cases of IBS, this is quite often a case of too little stomach acid. This is a really common scenario; as we age or in terms of stress and could also potentially be made worse if you're on long-term digestive medications, for example.
By introducing bitter herbs into your diet; so, for example, with lots of lovely leafy greens, and especially at the start of meals, this can be a lovely way to gently stimulate your gastric juices.

Then, if you struggle to get enough bitterness into your diet, then this is where something like a herbal bitters tincture, or drops will come in handy, such as Yarrow Complex drops. These are lovely and bitter, as the name suggests, and you can just pop in a small splash of water, 5 to 10 minutes before your meals, and this can help to get a lovely source of that bitterness in your mouth, which helps initiate this crucial first steps of your digestion.

5. Relax

Easier said than done, I know, but an overactive stress response is so very often underlying in situations of IBS as there's a very real gut-brain axis and this is why stress can have such a significant effect.

It can in some cases be quite a direct effect; so in acute instances of stress, which isn't necessarily detrimental if they are quite short-lived; so, if you have some public speaking, a big event in work or a big social event, you might notice that stress affects your digestion during that time.

But then we also have instances of chronic stress where the stress is more ongoing. This means that it's potentially going to deplete stomach acid levels, turn off your digestive functions to some degree, and then this state of low stomach acid can then cause issues further along the digestive tract, in terms of failing to trigger the secretion of other crucial digestion enzymes, and in turn, potentially affecting the balance of bacteria.

So, stress is another important consideration, but I always acknowledge that it's very individual in terms of the source of the stress. So, how much control over it you have, for example. But quite often, introducing some stress management techniques or herbs to help with this stress response such as Passiflora Complex tablets can be a useful step.


Keen to get a better insight into your digestion still? Check out our IBS Symptom Checker here.

Silicol®gel – For IBS


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Silicol gel - Colloidal silicic acid gel treatment for IBS and indigestion. 200ml and 500ml …
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Here’s what I recommend

As the A.Vogel Digestion advisor, I recommend Silicol® Gel and Molkosan® Original, to help with your IBS symptoms.

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