Doctors in England and Wales are being urged to use a simple faecal test to improve the accuracy of diagnosing bowel conditions.
New guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recommended that the faecal calprotectin test is used to help distinguish between potentially serious inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and less serious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
IBS is an unexplained disorder primarily affecting people aged between 20 and 30 years. There is no clear cause nor definitive treatment, and while potentially interfering with some aspects of daily life, it does not usually have serious consequences.
IBD, on the other hand, is an umbrella term for a group of conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which can have serious complications, including a high risk of requiring surgery and an increased risk of colorectal cancer, underscoring the need to identify these patients as early as possible in order to administer the appropriate treatment.
The faecal calprotectin test detects a protein found in inflammatory cells which is present in the stool in higher numbers when the bowel is inflamed, and so is useful in getting a faster and more accurate diagnosis of the underlying illness.
While numerous different tests are used in clinical practice, they focus on ruling out conditions rather than diagnosing them, which means that many people with IBD, particularly children with Crohn's disease, sometimes have to wait for several years for their condition to be diagnosed, according to NICE.
Carole Longson, Director of the NICE Health Technology Evaluation Centre, said that the tests will save the NHS money as well as being of benefit to patients.
"They will reduce both the time spent searching for a diagnosis and the numbers of invasive procedures such as colonoscopy," she said, and noted that it is "also likely to reduce the demands on colonoscopy departments which will be able to focus on people being investigated for more serious conditions such as bowel cancer".