Irritable bowel syndrome is proof that life is not always fair. While most people live their lives in relative harmony with their gut, IBS strikes victims with pain and discomfort at the worst of times, be it at work, in public or out with friends. Symptoms include:
Eighty percent of IBS patients are women. And with 14% of the American population complaining of IBS symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome has serious implications, to the patient and the economy. Estimates suggest that IBS costs the typical patient over $5,000 in annual medical costs, with close to 14 lost work hours each week.
That’s the bad news. Fortunately, irritable bowel syndrome, though embarrassing, is a manageable condition.
Irritable bowel syndrome requires a management strategy, to know your symptoms and identify your triggers, and when and where they hit. And that strategy starts with your doctor. Discuss your symptoms with your physician, and ask questions. Don’t be embarrassed – they’re perfectly suitable questions for a doctor’s office. The more you know, the better off you’ll be.
Learn about IBS. Read pamphlets, books and reliable sources of information on the internet. You can also contact the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) at www.iffgd.org, as they’re a good source for IBS help and can refer you to specialists and support networks.
Watch your symptoms. Keep a journal and record your stomach pain, discomfort or bowel movements as they develop. Note what you were doing when they occurred, how you felt prior and the type of food or medications you took before your symptoms flared up. This information may help you modify your diet and lifestyle accordingly.
Know that you’re not alone. Tell your family and friends and a trusted co-worker about your condition. They`ll be more understanding when they know that IBS is a real illness, and they’ll know for example, why you might be late for an event.
In addition, it is advisable to tell your employer about your symptoms, and that when they flare up, you have no control over them. You may need to bring educational material to work. Tell your employer that you have a strategy to manage your IBS, including your diet and IBS medicine, and that you remain a dedicated worker.
You may find that most people are generally sympathetic to your plight, but bring a doctor’s note, explaining the disorder and symptoms, if your employer is not understanding.
A little prep work can put your mind at ease before going to an event. Know where restrooms are in advance, before you go out. If you’re at a concert or movie, sit in the back row so you can quickly dart out if your symptoms flare up. If you go to a restaurant, find out what’s on the menu in advance so you can avoid trigger foods.
Accept that embarrassing symptoms are part of the condition. An honest “Sorry, I have an illness” can explain the awkward yet inevitable flare-ups when they occur. Remember that no one is perfect. Most likely they haven’t noticed your frequent runs to the bathroom because they’re dealing with their own issues.
Meditation and stress management may reduce your symptoms. If they arise in a meeting, for example, you might relax with deep, meditative breathing to put your mind at ease.
Psychotherapy is one of the more effective IBS treatments, with many patients reporting a 50% reduction in symptoms. Psychotherapy is a form of behavioural therapy, which also includes relaxation therapy, hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
Perhaps the best way to manage irritable bowel syndrome is to learn how to cope. You can’t cure IBS, but you can manage your symptoms and the effects they have on your life. Yes, you can manage your symptoms. Don’t let them manage you.