A Simple Test to Help Diagnose Bowel Conditions

The UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has issued draft guidance advising physicians to use a fecal calprotectin test to help distinguish between IBS and more serious bowel disorders.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) shares several symptoms with more serious conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. To help UK physicians make more accurate and timely diagnoses and ensure patients who may be suffering from more severe inflammatory disease are referred to a specialist for treatment, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued draft guidance advising physicians to use a fecal calprotectin test when evaluating patients who present with symptoms of a bowel disorder.

Use of a fecal calprotectin test “helps to distinguish between illnesses such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and more serious inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease,” the NICE said in a statement accompanying the release of the draft guidance. This is important because although IBS is a “troublesome and painful condition” that can negatively impact a patient’s quality of life, “it does not have serious effects in terms of damage to the bowel.” This is in contrast to the potentially more serious effects of IBD, which can lead to serious complications and is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Accurately distinguishing between IBS and IBD promotes more effective management and monitoring. In the statement, Carole Longson, PhD, director of the NICE Health Technology Evaluation Centre, said, “Bowel disorders can be difficult to diagnose. But the treatments and outcomes can be very different. Faecal calprotectin testing helps doctors to distinguish between non-inflammatory disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome where sufferers will not come to serious harm and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn's Disease, which need to be quickly referred to specialists.”

According to Longson, the available evidence showed that “faecal calprotectin testing is a good way to distinguish between inflammatory bowel disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Increased use of fecal calprotectin testing will “reduce time spent searching for a diagnosis and reduce the numbers of invasive procedures such as colonoscopy.”

The draft diagnostics guidance for fecal calprotectin tests for inflammatory diseases of the bowel is available on the NICE website.