In what is thought to be a world first, scientists have developed a new set of blood tests to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome.
The diagnostic tool can quickly and accurately diagnose the painful condition, offering hope to millions afflicted across the world.
There are currently no specific tests routinely used by doctors to identify IBS.
As a result, millions of patients undergo invasive investigations to rule out other, more serious conditions including bowel cancer and Crohn’s disease, before specialists can arrive at a diagnosis.
Gastroenterologist Dr Mark Pimentel, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA, believes his new method could help secure an early diagnosis for patients, avoiding the need for years of medical appointments.
He said the tests confirm when an individual has developed IBS as a result of food poisoning, a major cause of the disorder.
Toxins produced by bacteria, such as salmonella, can severely harm the digestive system by damaging nerves critical to healthy gut function.
The new blood tests identify the presence and amount of specific antibodies reacting to the toxins.
Dr Pimentel said: ‘Having an early diagnosis means patients can avoid years of invasive tests and visits to specialists that often leave them with more questions than answers.
‘With these new blood tests many patients will now be able to proceed right to therapy for their condition.’
IBS is the most common gastroenterological disorder plaguing patients in the US, affecting nearly 40 million people.
In the UK, one in five people suffers the condition, while an estimated 10 per cent of the world’s population are affected.
Dr Pimentel said the disorder has been ‘nearly impossible to diagnose until now’.
It is characterised by a cluster of confounding symptoms, including chronic bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and bouts of relentless diarrhoea, constipation or both.
Fatigue and the stress patients suffer as a result of trying to plan their lives around visits to the bathroom, can prove debilitating.
Dr Pimentel and his team of researchers studied nearly 3,000 people, comparing IBS patients to those diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease and those with no gastrointestinal disease.
The blood tests identified the two antibodies associated with IBS – anti Cdtb and anti-vinculin – with greater than 90 per cent certainty, they found.
‘Most IBS patients have been told at one time or another that the disease was psychological, all in their head,’ said Dr Pimentel.
‘The fact that we can now confirm the disease through their blood, not their head, is going to end a lot of the emotional suffering I have seen these patients endure.’
The study, validating the accuracy of the blood tests, was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Dr Pimental also presented his research on Sunday at Digestive Disease Week 2015 in Washington D.C.