Why Do Some Healthcare Providers Have A Lack Of Understanding About IBS?
IBS is a type of condition called a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. The term “functional” is used because these kinds of disorders affect the way that a person’s digestive system works. In the case of IBS, the affected activities are located in the middle and lower parts of a person’s intestines, and causes a change in bowel function: typically, diarrhea or constipation. Functional GI disorders are very common, affecting an estimated 25% of people in the United States.
However, despite affecting so many people, these types of functional GI disorders can be challenging for some healthcare providers to diagnose and treat for a variety of reasons. The symptoms of IBS, for example, tend to change in terms of their type and their severity. Because the symptoms are generally related to bowel habits, some people feel uncomfortable talking openly with their healthcare providers about the specifics of their symptoms, or may avoid seeking treatment for as long as possible.
Another challenge that IBS and other functional GI disorders can pose for healthcare providers is that they are very complex and can be difficult to diagnose. For example, there is no specific blood test that can be used to diagnose IBS. Unlike other conditions that affect the digestive system, IBS does not cause damage to the inside of the intestines that can be viewed using a diagnostic procedure such as an endoscopy, scan, or X-ray. IBS also has symptoms that are similar to many other types of conditions, which can lead to a missed or incorrect diagnosis and ineffective treatment.
As a results of these challenges, some people with IBS face a lack of understanding from healthcare providers about their condition. Unfortunately, there are some healthcare providers who may tend to minimize the effect of a person’s IBS symptoms. Some healthcare providers may even be reluctant to make a diagnosis of IBS at all, for example, because they are not informed about current research and understanding about this complex condition. Remember that your healthcare provider is here to help you. If you do not feel the right “chemistry” with your provider, you may need to look elsewhere for someone who is understanding about IBS and proactive about treating it.
Tips for finding a good healthcare provider for IBS1,2
The bottom line is that some healthcare providers are not experienced or informed about diagnosing and treating IBS. This can cause a person with IBS to feel ignored and misunderstood. If you feel this way after interacting with your healthcare provider, you should strongly consider finding a new provider if possible.
The best strategy is to try to find a healthcare provider who is not only educated and experienced about IBS symptoms, triggers, and treatments, but also is able to develop a trusting and open relationship with his or her patients. Having open lines of communication with your healthcare provider is the first step in working toward an effective treatment plan for your IBS. Healthcare providers should be able to explain things clearly to you, and need to believe that they will be able to help you with your condition.
When approaching a potential healthcare provider, it can be helpful to have a set of questions ready to ask that will help you decide if that provider is right for you. For example, you might ask potential healthcare providers if they have or have had other patients with IBS, and if they have knowledge about IBS symptoms and triggers. You many also want to ask if providers know about other conditions that cause symptoms similar to IBS, or if they know about current research about the relationships between IBS and food intolerances or sensitivities. The way providers answer these types of questions should give you a good idea about their knowledge and attitudes about IBS, and help to guide your decisions about choosing the best provider for you.
Tips for talking with your healthcare provider about IBS1,3
Talking about IBS symptoms can be awkward and uncomfortable. But if you have found a healthcare provider who is supportive, positive, and knowledgeable about the condition, then you should try to be as honest and specific as possible about your symptoms. Keeping a diary to record your symptoms, food intake, and daily activities can be helpful in guiding the discussion and making you feel more at ease.
You should feel confident in asking your healthcare provider any questions about your condition, symptoms, and treatments. To help remind yourself during your appointment, it can be helpful to write down a list of questions and concerns for you to discuss with your healthcare provider. If you don’t understand something, ask for a clarification. If you are concerned about anything, ask for an explanation or reassurance. It can also be helpful to take notes during your discussions, so that you make sure to address everything and can refer back to your notes later on. Bringing a friend or loved one with you to an appointment might make you feel more relaxed and supported.
- IFFGD. Doctor-patient communication. Available at https://www.iffgd.org/finding-a-doctor/doctor-patient-communication.html
- IFFGD. Finding a doctor. Available at https://www.iffgd.org/manage-your-health/finding-a-doctor.html
- Forrey S. Finding an IBS doctor. Available at http://solvingtheibspuzzle.com/ibs-doctor/