April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month, a much-needed campaign to raise the profile of a condition that an estimated 10-15% of people live with. So many people live with the condition without knowing it, meaning they remain undiagnosed. Here’s what you need to know about the disorder.
What is it?
According to the NHS, IBS is a common condition that affects the digestive system. It causes symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. They can come and go over time, last for days, weeks or months at a time. Unfortunately, it’s usually a lifelong problem.
It can be very frustrating to live with and can have a big impact on your everyday life. Although there is no cure for the condition, diet changes and medicines can often help control the symptoms. No one knows why it happens – it can range from food passing through your gut too quickly or too slowly, to oversensitive nerves, stress and a family history of the condition.
What are the Symptoms?
If you’re experiencing any or all of the following symptoms, it might be time to speak to your GP:
- stomach pain or cramps – usually worse after eating and better after doing a poo
- bloating – your tummy may feel uncomfortably full and swollen
- diarrhoea – you may have watery poo and often need to poo suddenly
- constipation – you may strain when pooing and feel like you can’t empty your bowels fully
The common condition affects around two in 10 people in Britain and it’s difficult to live your daily life, going out with friends for dinner, going to work and your home life. We took a look at Jane’s story and how she manages IBS in her day to day life.
“So where did it all start? Was it because we only had a cold, damp, spider-filled outside loo and I used to ‘hold on’ until I got to school? Was it because we had the landlady from hell who stressed all the family out? Does anxiety cause IBS? Does IBS cause anxiety? So many questions…
It was November 1981, I was in the stockroom standing on a ladder moving boxes when suddenly I felt a ferret (definitely not a butterfly) running around my bowel; better go to the toilet, I thought!
Going out for meals with friends was something I used to enjoy but yet again the ferret returned and I had to leave the table to go to the loo. I couldn’t eat anything after that. In those early days friends thought I was odd, it was all in my mind and they were not very understanding. Around 10 years later one of those friends apologized to me as she had started to experience similar problems.
Being diagnosed with Endometriosis did not help me either as the diarrhoea got worse. Symptoms have changed for me a little over the years and currently they seem to happen after lunch. I get a localized pain to the lower right side followed by an urgency to get to the loo. I generally feel better afterwards unless it’s a severe attack which knocks the stuffing out of me. It can then take a while for me to recover. I also get very bad wind pains. If I’m at home I lie my body flat on the bed and let my legs drop over the side. My hubby says I have enough wind inside me to start my own power station!
If an episode happened to me at work, I used to walk around the business park until it eased just telling my understanding line manager “I have one of my tums”. I dreaded business meetings so I used to take an antispasmodic tablet and sit at the back ready to escape to the loo.
Through the years I have tried everything to ease my IBS, including reflexology, exclusion diets and hypnotherapy but alas, they did not work for me but they may help others, so never give up! You just need to find what works for you.
IBS has interfered with my life, especially my love of rambling but on reflection, I think I have been luckier than most sufferers. I have a great GP who has always listened to me and with the support of The IBS Network – you never feel alone.
About the IBS Network
The IBS Network was established in 1991 as the national charity supporting people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Over the years the charity has grown and developed – changing names (formerly known as The Gut Trust), location and staff. However, our core values have remained the same; to provide information, support and advice for people living with IBS.
Visit the IBS website