Want to talk to your doctor about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? It's not always easy to discuss sensitive subjects. Even if they've heard it all before, it might be the first time you've spoken to a healthcare professional about your symptoms—or the first time you’ve thought about what kinds of treatments you want to try.
Learn how to have a healthy conversation with your doctor. If you're interested in natural or complementary IBS treatments, like gut-directed hypnotherapy, remember to speak up and make your preferences known. Your doctor can help you find the right hypnotherapy provider or suggest at-home hypnotherapy programs.
Read on to discover some helpful tips to take with you to your next doctor's appointment.
How should I talk to my doctor about IBS?
Firstly, congratulations on taking an essential step in managing your gut health. Talking to your doctor about IBS means that you can discover treatments, learn about your condition, and get back in control of your gut symptoms.
Before you head off to your appointment, you may want to keep a few things in mind. A 2018 international survey involving 513 IBS-D patients showed that 27% of people felt that "IBS is a condition that healthcare professionals don't understand."
In a similar survey, 32% agreed with the statement "healthcare professionals do not take IBS seriously," and 25% agreed that "my healthcare professional should invest more time and energy into educating me about my IBS."
While it’s likely that your doctor will be knowledgeable about IBS, it's always a good idea to come prepared and remember to advocate for yourself. You deserve to have your symptoms taken seriously.
When you have a medical appointment, come prepared. Bring with you:
- A list of questions or topics you wish to discuss
- Your medical history
- A list of your current medications
- Your symptom diary, if you are keeping one
- Notepad and pen (or take notes on your phone)
How do I get an IBS diagnosis from my doctor?
IBS is a functional illness, meaning it affects the function of the bowels without damaging the organs themselves. There's no specific test to diagnose IBS outright. Instead, your doctor is likely to look at your medical history, complete a physical exam, and run some tests to ensure you don't have another condition, such as celiac disease.
After ruling out other conditions, your doctor will check and see if your symptoms align with the Rome criteria's definition of IBS.
The Rome IV criteria states that for an IBS diagnosis, a person needs to experience recurrent abdominal pain, on average, at least one day per week for the last three months, associated with two or more of the following criteria:
- Related to defecation
- Associated with a change in frequency of stool.
- Associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool.
If your symptoms match up with the IBS criteria, you will receive an IBS diagnosis. Your doctor may also indicate your IBS subtype (e.g., IBD-D, IBS-C, IBS-M).
If you’re struggling to get a straight answer about your condition, you’re not alone. A 2014 World Journal of Gastroenterology article suggested that “many patients with IBS have been bounced around the medical field for many years with varying diagnoses because of the lack of interest or profound frustration by the physician in treating IBS.”
How can I find the right treatment for my IBS?
Once you have been diagnosed with IBS, your doctor will begin to discuss IBS-specific treatment options with you. While some doctors are up-to-date with research on natural IBS treatments, such as hypnotherapy, some are not. Many doctors may initially suggest diet changes, such as a low FODMAP diet, or drugs to manage your IBS.
Some common IBS medications include:
- Anti-diarrheal medicines
- Anticholinergic medications: to prevent muscle spasms.
- SSRI/Tricyclic antidepressants: antidepressants that can help with IBS and depression.
- Pain medications
- IBS specific medications: such as Eluxadoline (Viberzi) and Alosetron (Lotronex)
These medications can help relieve IBS symptoms. However, like any medication, there can be unwanted side effects. For example, while some antidepressants reduce IBS pain by inhibiting neurons that control the intestines, they can also cause drowsiness, blurred vision, dizziness, and dry mouth.
When talking to your doctor about treatment options, make sure you're prepared to ask the right questions, and take notes. Bring a pen and notepad with you (or use an app on your phone) to write down their advice.
Some things you might want to ask include:
- How will this medication help with my symptoms?
- What are the side effects?
- How long/how often will I have to take this medication?
- What are the alternatives? Are they as effective?
Engage your doctor in a conversation and ensure your questions are answered satisfactorily.
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How should I talk to my doctor about gut-directed hypnotherapy?
If you are interested in trying out gut-directed hypnotherapy, make sure you ask them about it, as your doctor might assume you only want to try IBS drugs or diets.
There’s no need to feel uncomfortable bringing up hypnotherapy for IBS in your appointment. Firstly, it’s important that you have an active interest in your health—no one knows your condition better than you! Second, hypnotherapy is a widely accepted and respected practice in the medical community.
Modern use of therapeutic hypnosis dates back hundreds of years, with the First International Congress for Experimental and Therapeutic Hypnotism taking part as early as 1889. Many modern studies have supported hypnotherapy as a safe and effective complementary treatment for various health conditions. What's more, a recent study even proved gut-directed hypnotherapy was as effective as a low FODMAP diet.
Start the conversation by asking your doctor the following questions:
- What do you know about gut-directed hypnotherapy?
- Have you recommended it in the past? Why/why not?
- Can you help me find a gut-directed hypnotherapist?
- Can you recommend an at-home gut-directed hypnotherapy option, such as an app or a recording?
If your doctor is familiar with hypnotherapy, they will be able to:
- Explain what hypnotherapy is and how it works
- Suggest where to find a professionally trained hypnotherapist
- Tell you what type of hypnotherapy might be best for you, e.g., group therapy vs. individual session
- Assess if you might not be suitable for hypnotherapy treatment. Some people shouldn't use hypnosis, for instance, if they have psychosis or certain types of personality disorders.
- Suggest some self-hypnosis apps or recordings that you could use at home
If you are already using hypnotherapy for IBS, tell your doctor about your experience so that they can make a note of any improvements or concerns. In contrast, if your doctor doesn't know much about hypnotherapy, you can still inform them about your decision to try IBS hypnotherapy and report back to them about your results.
Will my doctor give me a hypnotherapy prescription?
Not as such, no. However, they might provide a referral to a psychologist, specialist, or counselor practicing hypnotherapy. They may also refer you to a specific app, such as Nerva, which works with doctors to help their patients find cost-effective at-home hypnotherapy for IBS.
Can I also take medication or diet while using hypnotherapy for IBS?
Yes, you can. One great thing about hypnotherapy is that it has been proven to work as a stand-alone treatment or as a complementary management option for IBS. Your doctor will be able to help you decide which is the right option for you.
Sometimes after completing a hypnotherapy program, some people are able to come off medications they previously used to manage their IBS or eat foods that used to trigger their symptoms. However, it’s important to note that any changes in your diet or medical regimen should always be approved by your doctor first.
The Wrap Up
Talking to your doctor about your IBS and treatment options is a positive step towards taking control of your IBS. While getting an accurate IBS diagnosis can be difficult, it’s easy to talk to your doctor about trying gut-directed hypnotherapy. You can ask them for a referral to an in-person hypnotherapist or for a recommendation for an at-home gut-directed hypnotherapy app. Remember that you deserve to have your symptoms taken seriously and that advocating for your gut-health is one of the best things you can do on your journey to feeling better.