Diarrhoea. Bloating. Gas.
These aren’t exactly topics we want to talk about over brunch, right?
But as many as 1 in 5 Aussie’s will experience Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in their lifetime. IBS is a condition characterised by symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea.
IBS is a pretty new area of research, and the exact cause is still under scrutiny. We know that environmental factors such as stress, infection or diet may cause symptoms. Furthermore, because there is no ‘immune’ reaction, like occurs in an allergy, there is no medical diagnostic test for IBS. We rely instead on methods including the FODMAPs elimination diet, which can be tricky to understand, let alone explain to others.
It can be difficult and embarrassing to talk about IBS, whether to a doctor, dietitian, family or friend. And to make things worse, the condition is often not well understood. As a result, you might be met with disbelief, or people who just don’t grasp the seriousness of the condition and the big impact it can have on quality of life.
IBS and your quality of life
So, while dealing with the symptoms can obviously be physically tough, the emotional impact might take an even bigger toll. It’s been shown that the effect of IBS on quality of life may be comparably worse than other chronic conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, diabetes and end stage renal disease. Effects on quality of life might include low energy and fatigue, disruption in work and sleep, pain and poor perception of health. Additionally, recent research has shown that depression and anxiety are higher in people with IBS. In addition, relationships with friends and family can suffer.
So, we need to talk about it!
When it comes to talking about IBS, there’s a few things you should remember.
Don’t be embarrassed.
First off – don’t be embarrassed. Especially not with your dietitian or doctor – they talk about this stuff ALL THE TIME. Seriously. All the time. Anyone dealing with a medical condition deserves support and consideration. The element of embarrassment associated with IBS is something that needs to go.
While this might not be something you normally discuss with family and/or friends, it is essential you can. Diagnosis and treatment of IBS can be challenging, physically and emotionally, and it is essential to seek support from those around you. Undergoing the FODMAPs elimination diet means that social, home and work dining situations might have to change a little – so it is important that those around you understand what you are going through.
Furthermore, if stress is a contributing factor to your IBS, reaching out for support to manage this is essential. This might be from family or friends, or more formal support from a psychologist or counsellor. If you find that you are not receiving support from those around you, seeking some professional help may be just what you need.
Another form of support may be found online, via the emerging social media pages, on which people experiencing IBS and undergoing the FODMAPs elimination diet can share experiences, or even by partaking in our FODMAP challenge.
Skip the details.
You may not get into the nitty gritty details with friends, family or colleagues like you might with your dietitian, but you can keep it general. Digestive problems, cramps or a sensitive stomach might be enough information to give in certain circumstances.
You are not alone.
Talking about IBS might help others who are suffering talk too. Remember 1 in 5 of those around you are likely to experience IBS in their lifetime. Your openness might help someone struggling to talk about or manage their experience too.
You know you.
There’s always going to be those who just don’t get it. Remember, you know your body best, and when it comes to IBS, you need to do what is right for you.
If you think you might be experiencing IBS symptoms and haven’t gotten help, get in touch with your doctor and dietitian and TALK about it. You deserve support as much as someone undergoing any illness or chronic disease, and you’ll feel so much better for it.
By: Ellie Wiltshire
Image sourced from Pinterest.
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Lee, C, Doo, E, Choi, J.M, Jang, S, Ryu, H, Lee, J.Y, Oh, J, Park, J.H, Kim, Y.S 2017, The increased level of depression and anxiety in irritable bowel syndrome patients compared with healthy controls: systematic review and meta-analysis, Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 349-362
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Nanayakkara, W.S, Skidmore, P.M.L, O’Brien, L, Wilkinson, T.J, Gearry, R.B 2016, Efficacy of the low FODMAP diet for treating irritable bowel syndrome: the evidence to date, Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology, vol. 9, pp. 131-142