What Type Of Doctor Should You See for IBS?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed December 2022

About 10 to 15 percent of people in the United States live with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Yet, only 5 to 7 percent of people have received an official diagnosis from a doctor.1

IBS can take a great toll on a person’s life. This is why getting an accurate IBS diagnosis early is crucial, so that symptoms can be managed and a treatment plan can be devised. Diagnosing and managing symptoms require a proper team of healthcare professionals, including IBS specialists.1-3

Who is part of the IBS healthcare team?

People with IBS may have several doctors and IBS specialists on their healthcare team. A diverse team of health experts can help with a tailored treatment plan. This treatment plan is usually a combination of:1-5

  • Drug therapy
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Stress management
  • Mental health counseling

Your IBS healthcare team may consist of a:1,3-5

  • Primary care provider (PCP) – family medicine doctors, internal medicine doctors, or pediatricians
  • Gastroenterologists – doctors who specialize in gastrointestinal (GI) health
  • Registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) – food and nutrition experts

Other healthcare providers who treat IBS

Other healthcare providers seen for IBS include:4-6

  • Mental health experts
  • Nurses
  • Physician assistants
  • Complementary medicine specialists (acupuncturist, massage therapist, ayurvedic doctor, etc.)

When should you see a doctor for IBS?

If you have any of the following symptoms, schedule a visit with your PCP:1-3

  • Stomach pain and cramping
  • Bloating and excess gas
  • Chronic constipation
  • Chronic diarrhea

Your doctor will go over your symptoms and medical history with you. They will also perform a physical exam.1,2

Depending on your symptoms, they may refer you to a gastroenterologist for more diagnostic testing. These tests may include:1,2

  • Blood tests
  • Stool tests
  • Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy – procedures that look at the colon and GI tract in more detail, using a scope with a camera attached at the end of it
  • Diet and nutrition are an important part of the IBS treatment journey. An RDN can help you develop a meal plan and diet that allows you to get the right nutrients you need while avoiding foods that may trigger IBS symptoms.1,2

    Prepare for your doctor visit

    Research shows that people with IBS have more visits to the doctor than people without IBS. Maximizing your time during these appointments can save you time and money. Here are some tips to prepare:7,8

    • Write down the main reason for your visit.
    • Compile a list of all past and present symptoms.
    • Get your doctor to explain any diagnostic tests they recommend and what they involve.
    • Write down any and all questions you have for them.
    • If you keep a food diary, bring that with you so that you can share any food triggers.
    • Be honest and open about your symptoms, concerns, and fears.
    • Take notes during your visit.

    In addition, here are some questions to ask your doctor:1,8

    1. What foods should I avoid?
    2. What medicines may help my symptoms?
    3. Am I at risk for other health conditions?
    4. Should I see any other IBS specialists, such as a gastroenterologist or RDN?
    5. What other lifestyle changes may help?

    Form a therapeutic alliance with your healthcare team

    In a 2021 study, doctors who showed empathy, active listening, and a therapeutic alliance with their patients had a positive impact on IBS symptom management and overall treatment.4

    A therapeutic relationship with and confidence in your doctor goes a long way. Be empowered to speak up about any change in your symptoms, whether treatments are not working, or if you have questions about alternative therapies. Working in partnership with your healthcare team can help you manage your symptoms and take control of your IBS.8

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