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Rational investigations in irritable bowel syndrome
  1. Christopher J Black,
  2. Alexander C Ford
  1. Leeds Gastroenterology Institute, St. James's University Hospital, Leeds, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Alexander C Ford, Leeds Gastroenterology Institute, St. James's University Hospital, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK; alexf12399{at}


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder which accounts for a substantial proportion of a gastroenterologist’s time in the outpatient clinic. However, there is variability in approaches to diagnosis and investigation between physicians, dependent on expertise. Many patients express disappointment over the lack of a patient-centred approach. Consequently, there have been calls for the care of patients with IBS to be standardised, a process which aims to promote high-quality and high-value care. Making an early diagnosis, based on a clinical assessment of symptoms, while limiting use of investigations, are key tenets of this process. Exhaustive investigation to exclude all organic pathology is unnecessary, and may be counterproductive. Routine blood tests in suspected IBS have low yield, but are an acceptable part of routine practice. All patients should have coeliac serology tested, regardless of their predominant stool form. Patients with diarrhoea should have a faecal calprotectin measured, and should proceed to colonoscopy to exclude inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) if this is positive. Beyond this, the need for investigations should be made on a case-by-case basis, contingent on the reporting of known risk factors for organic pathology. Colonoscopy should be considered in any patient with alarm features for colorectal cancer, and in those whose clinical features are suggestive of microscopic colitis. A 23-seleno-25-homotaurocholic acid (SeHCAT) scan should be considered in patients with IBS-D, a third of whom may actually have bile acid diarrhoea. There is no role for routine hydrogen breath tests for lactose malabsorption or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

  • irritable bowel syndrome

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  • Contributors CJB and ACF drafted the article.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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