Is A Diagnosis Of Exclusion Really A Diagnosis?

I have a feeling this topic might get controversial, so I extend my apologies ahead of time if it does.

I don’t know about you IBS sufferers, but I can’t help but feel that irritable bowel syndrome is not a legitimate diagnosis. How can a diagnosis of exclusion be an actual diagnosis? Well, that’s exactly what medical experts consider IBS to be since there’s no definitive way to test for it. You can test for cancer, Crohn’s Disease, and other serious chronic illnesses, but there’s no biomarker for IBS, so it’s something that is sadly undetectable by physicians today.

What is a diagnosis of exclusion?

A diagnosis of exclusion is a medical term used when a diagnosis of a medical condition is reached simply by ruling out other conditions. In other words, if there are no conclusive results that point to a disease that is detectable, then an educated guess will take place as your diagnosis (at least that’s how I read it). I understand that medical experts can only do so much when it comes to testing and I do cut them some slack, since I guess saying “I just don’t know what’s wrong with you” can sound a lot worse than “irritable bowel syndrome” to many people (although the former response was what I was getting for a long time). The educated guess, with all due respect, was not an easy conclusion to arrive at because it took me almost 5 years to officially get diagnosed with IBS. However, I’ll tell you this: I’d much rather get an educated guess than a simple guess because, in hindsight, I want to feel like I did everything I needed to do to be sure that what I was, and still am, going through is not life-threatening. But calling what I go through as “irritable bowel syndrome” can be a misconception to those who know nothing about my condition and overall hardships I face due to my health.

IBS is complicated

Irritable bowel syndrome can be misleading because it only sounds like an issue with the bowels when it’s clearly more complicated than that. However, that’s what I end up telling people anyway – that IBS is a very complicated disease – just to make a long story short. How can I explain that IBS is more than irregular bowel movements and stomach pain, when it includes other issues like back pain, joint pain, anxiety, depression, possible eating disorders, irregular sleep patterns, lack of libido – I mean the list goes on and on, folks. Summing up what I go through by calling it “irritable bowel syndrome” or “stomach problems” belittles the tremendous obstacles I have faced in the past, continue to face today, and most likely in the future. Nonetheless, I feel like that’s the simplest way for me to describe my condition without going too much into detail, or else I’ll feel like I’m “sharing too much information”, since it’s taboo to talk about toilet issues, and other health concerns, in public.

Stamping the term “IBS” on people with digestive issues is also a major problem because it implies that we suffer from pain because we don’t “eat right.” That is so far from the truth because food is not the only trigger to our symptoms. A great example of that is when many IBS sufferers try out the low FODMAP diet (which is supposed to help those with many digestive disorders) but get upset or discontent when the diet is not 100% effective. I was one of those people because I get negatively affected even by some of the “safe foods” on the list. I can eat something “safe” one day and be totally fine, but if I eat it again the next day, it’s quite possible that it will trigger a symptom, which has happened to me many, many times before. My friend, Mannie, who also has IBS put it best by saying, “Personally, this just adds to the evidence that IBS is less a real diagnosis, and more just a name for a collection of symptoms attributable to any number of possible underlying causes that we just don’t know how to identify yet.” I couldn’t have said it any better.

For now, I’ll accept my diagnosis of exclusion for the simple fact that it is the best term that describes concisely what I am dealing with and connects me with other people going through the same issues. I hope one day, however, that I will finally be diagnosed with the cause of my irritable bowel, and it can be somehow cured or managed better. Am I asking for too much? How do any of you feel about the way IBS is diagnosed? Please feel free to share your thoughts below and thank you so much for reading my article.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

Have you taken our IBS In America Survey yet?