Talking to your doctor

If you have any of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) or chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC), the most important step you can take is to talk to your doctor or another healthcare provider. And it's also important to rule out other, more serious conditions. A diagnosis for your symptoms can guide recommendations for treatment options by your doctor.

So make an appointment with your doctor today.

Preparing for your doctor visit
What to expect during your visit

Preparing for your doctor visit

It's helpful to prepare for your appointment by keeping a diary of your symptoms.

Write down each of your symptoms.

These symptoms may include:
  • Constipation (having less than 3 bowel movements a week)
  • Straining when having a bowel movement
  • Gas pain
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Bloating
  • Hard or lumpy stool
  • Feeling of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement

Next to each symptom, write down:

How many times per week you experience the symptom. For example, do you feel bloated once a week or every day? Is it consistent each week, or does it come and go?

How long you've been experiencing the symptom. Has it been a month, 3 or 6 months, or longer since you first starting noticing this symptom?

How severe is the symptom? Does it disrupt your daily activities? Do you find yourself planning your day around how severe the symptom is?

Does anything seem to trigger the symptom? For example, does it seem to happen whenever you eat certain foods or are under a lot of stress?

If you notice changes in the consistency or form of your stools, write down about how much of the time they are hard or lumpy, soft and "normal," or loose or watery.

You'll also want to write down any information that may help your doctor learn more about your body and your health—and help you get the information you need. This may include:

A list of all the medications you take, including prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Some medicines can cause constipation and other gut symptoms.

Any big changes that have happened since your last visit. This may include new symptoms, health conditions, changes to your diet or exercise routine, or causes of stress (like a change in your employment or marital status or the loss of a loved one).

Anything you've tried in the past that has not worked to relieve your symptoms. This includes any prescription or non-prescription (over-the-counter) medications as well as things like increasing the amount of fiber in your diet, drinking more water, exercising, and reducing stress.

Any questions you have for the doctor. Time can be limited in a doctor's visit. Write down your top questions ahead of time so you can make sure to cover your most pressing concerns. Questions you may want to ask include:

  • Could I have IBS-C or CIC?
  • What else could be causing my symptoms?
  • What tests do I need?
  • What treatments are available to help manage my symptoms?
  • What are the benefits and risks of each of these treatment options?
  • Are there any changes I can make to my diet or lifestyle to help manage my symptoms?
  • Are there any "red flags" I should watch out for?

What to expect during your visit

What to expect during your visit

When you visit your doctor, he or she will first want to rule out any other possible causes of your symptoms, such as illnesses, medications, or other conditions.

To do this, your doctor will likely:

Take your medical history. Your doctor may ask about:

  • Any medical conditions or major injuries you have now or in the past
  • Any surgeries or other medical procedures you've undergone
  • Any medications you're currently taking (including vitamins and herbal supplements)
  • Any allergies you may have to medications
  • Any history of gastrointestinal conditions (such as IBS or colon cancer) in your family
  • Your symptoms (what they are, how severe they are, and how often they occur)
  • Any abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Changes in frequency or form of bowel movements
  • Any recent changes in your health
  • Any big sources of stress
  • Your level of physical activity

Perform a physical exam. Depending on your symptoms, this may include:

  • Feeling your abdomen
  • A rectal exam
  • A pelvic exam (for women)

Order tests. These may include:

  • A test of your stool
  • A blood test

If you have any "red flags" (symptoms or signs of a more serious condition), your doctor may order additional tests, such as a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, to look inside your colon.

These "red flag" symptoms and signs include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Onset of symptoms after age 50
  • Symptoms that wake you up at night
  • Family history of colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or celiac disease
  • Fever
  • Low blood count
  • Severe constipation not responsive to treatment
  • Long-lasting diarrhea
  • Trouble swallowing that has been getting worse over time
  • Vomiting that keeps coming back
  • History of traveling to countries where parasitic diseases are common
  • Weight loss

Your doctor may diagnose you with IBS-C or CIC if you do not have these red flags but have symptoms consistent with these disorders. You and your doctor will then discuss a treatment plan that is right for you.

Preparing for your doctor visit

Managing IBS-C & CIC

It's important to remember that the symptoms of IBS-C and CIC may be managed with the help of your doctor. Your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan that's right for you, depending on the nature and severity of your symptoms.

Your treatment plan may include:

A symptom diary: Your doctor may ask you to keep track of when your symptoms occur and what, if anything, seems to trigger your symptoms. This could be anything from stress to certain foods or drinks to changes in exercise routine.

Diet and lifestyle changes: Your doctor may also recommend making changes to your diet and lifestyle to help manage your symptoms. Depending on your diagnosis, these changes may include:

  • Limiting certain foods like complex carbohydrates and fatty foods as well as caffeine and alcohol
  • Eating high-fiber foods like certain fruits, vegetables, bran flakes, and beans. Make sure you increase your fiber intake slowly so your digestive system can adjust
  • Reducing stress through relaxation techniques and regular exercise like walking or yoga
  • Drinking more water to stay hydrated. About 6-8 glasses a day is recommended
  • Staying active with about 20-30 minutes of exercise a day

Non-prescription (over-the-counter medications): Your doctor may recommend trying over-the-counter laxatives. Ask your doctor about the benefits and risks of each treatment option.

Prescription medication: There are prescription medications available for the treatment of IBS-C and CIC. Ask your doctor about the benefits and risks of each treatment option.

Learn about a treatment option that
may help with recurring symptoms


Symptoms like constipation, gas pain, and having to strain during a bowel movement may be signs of CIC. If you're also experiencing abdominal pain, together these may be symptoms of IBS-C.

Check your symptoms >