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Your guide to bowel conditions

GP looking at notes - bowel conditions

You may have grounds for bringing a clinical negligence... if you are unhappy with the standard of treatment you have received and believe you have been misdiagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

In a number of cases, the symptoms of IBS can be simply confused with the symptoms of other conditions affecting the bowel or stomach. IBS is also unpredictable, and symptoms may also vary and sometimes be contradictory with no obvious cause.

 IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion and if a patient is not properly tested to rule out conditions such a bowel cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and coeliac disease, unacceptable suffering can continue over the long-term and may result in surgery which should have been unnecessary or a poorer prognosis.

Vital follow-up tests are not carried out

Misdiagnosis of IBS can occur if referral for vital follow-up tests are not carried out by a doctor to accurately identify the condition.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – part of the Government’s Department of Health – clearly sets out clinical guidelines for doctors to follow.

If you - or a member of your family - presented urgent “red flag” symptoms to your doctor at any time, it is normally expected that a prompt referral for further investigation or secondary care will take place.

If you are concerned that a health condition that you or a loved one has not been treated with an expected level of appropriate care, you will need to show evidence that negligence occurred, because:

  • A course of treatment or medication was prescribed without a thorough examination
  • Suffering was caused by the side-effects of treatment or medication
  • Referral to a specialist failed to take place
  • The undiagnosed, underlying condition remains untreated and continues to cause preventable harm and suffering

What to do next... is to discuss your specific circumstances and the subsequent impact upon your quality of life, to see if you have a medical negligence.

Our dedicated clinical negligence team at Your Legal Friend has many years experience in successfully resolving many complex negligence cases.

We can investigate your case heard, and obtain compensation for the injury or harm you or a loved one have suffered because of an IBS misdiagnosis.

IBS syndrome figures

  • IBS affects around one in ten of the UK population - females are affected more frequently than males.    (UK community surveys)
  • One in ten people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) - including Crohn's and ulcerative colitis - were initially misdiagnosed with IBS.      (United European Gastroenterology, 2014)
  • 3 percent of IBS misdiagnosis cases can persist for five or more years.    (United European Gastroenterology, 2014)
  • Most cases of IBS are aged 20 - 30 and under the age of 50.        (International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders - IFFGD)

Causes of IBS

The exact cause of IBS is not known but disruption of the functioning between the brain and stomach, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth are thought to be important factors.

IBS is also strongly associated with stress and anxiety resulting from lifestyle and poor diet and can also be triggered by a bout of food poisoning. The use of antibiotics may increase the risk of developing the condition.

The risk of developing IBS increases six-fold after acute gastrointestinal infection, especially if the patient is young or there is prolonged fever, anxiety, and depression.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, long-term disorder of the digestive system.

IBS is unpredictable. Symptoms can vary and sometimes be contradictory, which often causes changes in normal bowel movement.

Disturbance in the normal functioning between stomach/intestine, the brain and nervous system can cause the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Painful stomach cramps or discomfort
  • Bloating

Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

It is highly likely that you are suffering with IBS, if – over a period of at least 6 months - you have suffered the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain/discomfort May be accompanied by at least two of the following:

- Altered stool passage (straining, urgency, incomplete evacuation)

- Abdominal bloating

- Symptoms made worse by eating

- Passage of mucus

  • Bloating of the stomach
  • Change in bowel habit

What are the "red flags" symptoms of IBS?

It is vital that you should be referred to secondary care for further investigation if you report to your doctor any of  the following “red flag” symptoms:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Iron-deficiency anaemia (IDA)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A family history of colon cancer
  • Fever
  • Age of symptoms onset after age 50

Other conditions commonly misdiagnosed as IBS

Other conditions with the appearance of  similar symptoms that can be mistaken for IBS include:

Inflammatory Bowel Disease - a general term for Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

Bowel, stomach and ovarian cancer

Endometriosis - womb-like tissue grows elsewhere in the body

Coeliac disease - an adverse reaction to eating foods containing gluten 

Food allergy

Food intolerance

Preventing IBS misdiagnosis

When IBS is misdiagnosed, a more serious condition is being missed, which can lead to severe, life-changing consequences for the patient.

Because there is no consistent biological ‘marker’ for precisely diagnosing IBS, a doctor will rely on trying to understand the symptoms to make a clinical diagnosis.

Symptoms of IBS may also vary amongst patients and other conditions can overlap with those of IBS. Some doctors might conclude that IBS is the most likely cause of the symptoms presented and, thereby, exclude other more serious causes. 

To more rule out other causes, a doctor should refer a patient for the following tests:

  • FBC (Full Blood Count) – commonly used to count the number of red cells, white cells and platelets present.
  • ESR and CRP (C-Reactive) - blood tests commonly used to detect the increase in protein markers of inflammation.
  • Antibody blood testing for Coeliac disease.
  • Colonoscopy – examination to detect colon polyps and cancer.
  •  Lactose Breath Test - to confirm the diagnosis of lactose intolerance.

How Your Legal Friend can help you...

The consequences of living with the symptoms of IBS can vary from mild inconvenience to a severe debilitation, which often profoundly impairs physical, emotional and social well-being.

To bring a claim for negligence in  we have to show :

  • Your GP failed to recognise the symptoms of IBS, or
  • A delay was caused in starting treatment, by failing to promptly transfer you to a specialist.
  • A failure to arrange for further vital ‘red flag’ diagnostic tests.

As experienced clinical negligence specialists, our task is to ensure your case is properly investigated. If you have not been provided you with an appropriate standard of care and have suffered as a result we will ensure that you receive the compensation to which you are entitled as swiftly as possible.

Your Legal Friend is committed to ensuring victims of clinical negligence get justice for mistakes made and compensation to ensure future medical treatment and care needs are properly met.