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What Type Of Doctor Should You See for IBS?

An accurate diagnosis of IBS is necessary, so that symptoms can be properly managed. Diagnosis should occur as soon as possible; however, 43% of people with IBS suffered for at least 5 years before a diagnosis was made. Diagnosing and managing symptoms requires a proper team of healthcare professionals, including IBS specialists.1

About half of the people with IBS who consulted a physician received a diagnosis. Although awareness and knowledge of IBS differed between IBS specialist, to diagnose IBS most physicians will use your medical history, a physical examination, specific IBS diagnostic criteria, and exclusion of other diseases.2

Approximately 57% of people with IBS were treated for their IBS symptoms mainly by a primary care physician.1 Most people seen by a primary care physician are diagnosed and not referred to a specialist.3 An almost similar percentage (53%) of people with IBS was cared for by a gastrointestinal specialist. A gastroenterologist is a physician dedicated to managing diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and liver. In a study of physician’s knowledge of diagnostic criteria and red flag signs, gastroenterologist were most knowledgeable about IBS.4 People may also see a urologist or gynecologists. A urologist is a specialist that deals with diseases of the male and female urinary tract and male reproductive organs. A gynecologist is knowledgeable about the female reproductive system.

Other healthcare providers most frequently seen for IBS:1

  • Mental health professional (7%)
  • Nurse practitioner (2%)
  • Physician assistant (2%)

People with IBS tend to see their healthcare provider often to manage their symptoms. About 34% of people with IBS have seen their healthcare provider one to two times in the past six months. About 30% of people had three to ten doctor’s visits in the past 6 months.1

Both men and women reported multiple visits with their healthcare providers for their IBS. The average doctor’s visits in the past six months was 3.5 for men and 4.5 for women.1

It is important to have a good therapeutic relationship with and confidence in your physician. A positive physician-patient relationship will help to achieve the best treatment option for symptom relief.5 A study reported that physicians who showed warmth, empathy, active listening, and a positive outlook saw a greater reduction in IBS symptoms and improvements in quality of life.6

Written by: Truc Thanh | Last reviewed: June 2016.
  1. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. IBS in the Real World Survey. Summary Findings. August 2002.
  2. Olafsdottir LB, Gudjonsson H, Jonsdottir HH, Jonsson JS, et al. Irritable bowel syndrome: Physicians’ awareness and patients’ experience. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18:3715-3720.
  3. Thompson WG, Heaton KW, Smyth GT, Smyth C. Irritable bowel syndrome in general practice: prevalence, characteristics, and referral. Gut. 2000;46:78-82.
  4. Charapata C, Mertz H. Physician knowledge of Rome symptom criteria for irritable bowel syndrome is poor among non-gastroenterologists. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2006;18:211-216.
  5. Foxx-Orenstein AE, Clarida JC. Irritable bowel syndrome in women: the physician-patientrelationship evolving. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2001;101:S12-S16.
  6. Lembo AJ. Current and emerging therapies for irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2015;11;9-15.