Irritable Bowel Syndrome: As many as 1 in 7 have it, but few speak of it
It’s a disorder that affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States. Its exact cause is not known and for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, the symptoms can have a significant impact on their life. It may impact a person’s emotional, personal and work life. And there’s the additional burden that comes from living in a society where the word “bowel” is rarely spoken. Many people suffering do not see their doctor and those around them may be unaware of the impact or even the existence of the disorder.
To raise awareness of IBS and encourage patients to work with their doctors, Abby, an IBS patient, is sharing her personal story in a new public service announcement (PSA), “Educating Americans about Living with IBS.” The PSA also features Dr. Lauren B. Gerson, Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford School of Medicine, who discusses the importance of working with a health care provider to determine if you have IBS and discuss ways to manage IBS symptoms.
For Abby, it took suffering through a milestone event to motivate her to see her doctor. From the time she was 22, Abby often felt uncomfortable, experiencing symptoms of constipation, bloating and abdominal pain on a regular basis. Initially, she thought the stress of planning her wedding and moving to a new city was to blame for her symptoms, but the discomfort lasted well after her big day. After trying with limited success to manage her symptoms through lifestyle changes, Abby decided to take control of her life, and went to her doctor to talk about her symptoms. It was then that Abby was diagnosed with IBS.
“I had so much bloating, it felt like I had a balloon in my stomach,” says Abby, who suffers from IBS-C, or IBS with constipation. “With the help of my doctor, I took action and learned how to manage my symptoms.”
Working together, Abby and her doctor came up with a treatment plan for her. “I want to let other IBS patients know that they are not alone. They, too, can take the first step to be empowered and speak to their doctor to discuss ways to manage their symptoms,” Abby adds.
As many as one in seven people suffer from IBS, and about three-quarters of patients are not receiving the care they need to manage their symptoms. There are three main types of IBS; IBS with constipation (IBS-C), IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) and IBS with mixed constipation and diarrhea (IBS-M). Common symptoms include abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, and changes of bowel habits such as constipation and/or diarrhea. While there is not a specific test for the disorder, people who think they might have IBS should consult their health care provider, who can help to diagnose and develop an appropriate treatment plan, based on a complete medical history that includes a careful description of symptoms and a physical examination.
“People who have IBS often experience its symptoms differently,” explains Dr. Gerson. “Along with changes in bowel habits, some of my patients might feel pain inside the abdomen. Another patient feels like she has knots in her belly which is so uncomfortable that she avoids doing some activities with her family.”
Together, Abby and Dr. Gerson provide a glimpse of what it is like to live with IBS. This is the first PSA dedicated to IBS in 10 years and was developed with the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD). IFFGD is a nonprofit education and research organization devoted to educating, helping and supporting people affected by GI disorders.