Written by Cari Riker RD of Riker Nutrition Consulting
Having Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can seem isolating at times because others visibly can’t see your pain, and the symptoms can be embarrassing to discuss. IBS symptoms are characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea.
However, there is no need to feel alone, IBS is the most prevalent functional gastrointestinal disorder. It is estimated that 10-15% of the global population has IBS (1). Although IBS impacts both men and women of all ages, it is more commonly diagnosed in women (2).
IBS may be more prevalent than what many people are aware of because only about 30% of people discuss their symptoms with their physicians(1). For those that do discuss their symptoms, they may have a delayed diagnosis because IBS symptoms mimic other gastrointestinal disorders.
This delay of diagnosis yields higher medical costs from a variety of medications, procedures, diagnostic tests and office visits. The frequent feeling of pain, discomfort, and urgency or constipation can impact emotional, social and professional lives. In regards to professional lives, IBS can be so debilitating that work or school is missed as well as interfering with work or school performance and productivity.
This impact was demonstrated in a 2015 Survey by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) that reported IBS caused them to miss work an average of 1.5 days per month, and interfered with their work productivity and performance during an average of 8 days per month. This time away from work can hinder their success professionally and in the classroom(3).
If symptoms aren’t managed, social events, travelling, or eating out can cause food fears of what to eat and anxiety over the unpredictability of anticipated symptoms (3-5). It can be fearful to make plans that require them to leave the house and not have a restroom nearby. This can lead people to avoid social events and family gatherings causing isolation and emotional distress. IBS can impact personal relationships as well.
They may be more self conscious of their appearance if they experience excessive bloating, which also can make intimacy intimidating (3-5). Although IBS is a chronic condition that can not be cured, the symptoms can be managed resulting in a higher quality of life.
Start by taking the appropriate steps to take control of your IBS rather than IBS controlling you:
● Seek advice and guidance from qualified health professionals who will provide evidenced based practices.
● Be your own patient advocate by discussing your symptoms and progress with your physician. Be prepared for your appointment by taking a log of your symptoms and the severity so they can more efficiently diagnose and treat you.
● Work with a Registered Dietitian to identify your food triggers and better manage your symptoms through diet.
● Meet with a mental health professional to provide coping strategies to reduce stress and anxiety. Don’t accept your symptoms as your “normal.” Take control of your life for new found focus, energy, and improved emotional, mental, and physical health.
1. Canavan, C., West, J., Card, T. The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome. Clinical Epidemiology. 2014; 6: 71-80. doi: 10.2147/CLEP.S40245 2. Spiegel BM. The burden of IBS: looking at metrics. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2009 Aug;11(4):265-9. 3. AGA. IBS In America. IBS IN AMERICA. Accessed on March 23, 2020. 4. El-Serag, H.B., Olden, K., and Bjorkman, D. Health-related quality of life among persons with irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2002; 16: 1171–1185 5. Ballou, S., McMahon M., Ha-Neul, L., et al. Effects of Irritable Bowel Syndrome on Daily Activities Vary Among Subtypes Based on Results from the IBS in America Survey. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2019; 17: 2471-2478. E3. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cgh.2019.08.016.