Finding the Right Doctor to Treat IBS-C or CIC

IBS-C and CIC may be treated by a primary care physician or gastroenterologist. Learn how to find the healthcare provider that is right for you.

A young woman talks to her doctor. Being able to communicate openly and honestly with your healthcare provider is important when managing a condition like IBS or CIC.

Medically reviewed in April 2022

Irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) and chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) are common functional GI disorders. Both cause chronic constipation as well as accompanying symptoms. Accompanying symptoms may include gas, bloating, abdominal pain, straining during bowel movements, and hard, lumpy stools.

If you are experiencing constipation and accompanying symptoms, it is important to see a healthcare provider to find out what is causing your symptoms. If you've been diagnosed with IBS-C or CIC, it is important to continue to work with a healthcare provider to find an effective treatment.

Primary care physicians and gastroenterologists
There is no test for either IBS-C or CIC, and symptoms can overlap with many other conditions. To diagnose IBS-C or CIC, a healthcare provider will need to eliminate the other possible causes. This will involve a physical exam, taking a medical history, and diagnostic tests. The diagnostic tests needed will depend on a person’s symptoms and the likelihood of another condition.

For many patients with IBS-C or CIC, diagnosis and treatment will begin with an appointment with a primary care physician. For some, a primary care physician may be able to oversee treatment. Others will be referred to a gastroenterologist, a healthcare provider who specializes in disorders that affect the GI system. Because gastroenterologists have more training and experience in treating GI disorders, they may helpful for diagnosing and treating IBS-C or CIC.

Even if you are referred to a gastroenterologist, your primary care physician will remain an important part of your healthcare team. While a condition like IBS-C or CIC can seem all consuming, it is important to remember that it is only one aspect of your health, and the other aspects should not be ignored. Regular appointments with your healthcare are important for monitoring things like blood sugar, cardiovascular health, and mental health, as well as keeping up to date on things like screenings and vaccinations.

Finding the right healthcare provider
Whether a primary care physician or a gastroenterologist, you want to work with a healthcare provider who takes your concerns seriously and has experience in diagnosing and treating your condition.

You also want to work with a healthcare provider you feel comfortable talking to. Discussing GI symptoms can be embarrassing, and many people have difficulty bringing up these symptoms during an appointment. If you feel this was, know that you are not alone. Also know that there are strategies that can help make the conversation easier. These include:

  • Make a list. Write a list of your symptoms, questions, and concerns, and bring this list to your appointment. Having the list in front of you can help you discuss everything you want to discuss during your appointment.
  • Tell your healthcare provider that you are embarrassed. Let your healthcare provider know that something is difficult to discuss—they may have their own strategies for making it easier. Remember that your healthcare provider has seen and discussed these symptoms before.
  • Be honest and specific. It may feel less embarrassing to talk about symptoms in a vague or indirect way, but being honest and specific will give your healthcare provider a better picture of what is going on and what might help.

If you feel you have trouble communicating with your healthcare provider, feel that your concerns are not being taken seriously, or feel that you and your healthcare provider do not have the right chemistry, consider getting a second opinion. It is important to get a correct diagnosis and to not give up on finding relief from your symptoms.

While there is no cure for IBS-C or CIC, there are treatments available. Treatment typically involves changes to diet and lifestyle and medications to relieve or control symptoms. Remember that different approaches work for different people, and it can take some time to find the treatment that is right for you.

Article sources open article sources

Mayo Clinic. Irritable bowel syndrome.
Ananya Mandal. What is Chronic Idiopathic Constipation (CIC)? News Medical Life Sciences.
Mayo Clinic. Constipation.
Brooks D. Cash. Understanding and Managing IBS and CIC in the Primary Care Setting. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 2018. Vol. 14, No. 5.
Medical News Today. Gastroenterologists: What to know.
Advocate Health Care. When to See a Gastroenterologist.
Cedars Sinai. How to Address Uncomfortable Topics With Your Doctor.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Don’t Be Shy: 4 Tips for Talking to Your Doctor.
UpToDate. Patient education: Irritable bowel syndrome (Beyond the Basics).

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