20 Things People With IBS Want You to Know
Chances are you know someone with IBS, whether you’re aware of it or not. Here are 20 things people with this common (but rarely talked-about) disorder want you to know about living with IBS:
1. Yes, we know Irritable Bowel Syndrome is an unfortunate name.
No, we did not choose the name. Most of us would rather just call it IBS.
We know that people automatically think of “number two” when they hear the word “bowel,” so we choose not to put that image in their mind. We don’t feel like dealing with the snickers at the word “bowel” — plus IBS is just easier to say.\
2. We don’t want to discuss our bowel habits with you.
Please don’t ask. I don’t care if your mom had an issue with diarrhea that you learned some valuable lessons from, or you know a remedy that will help me if I haven’t gone to the bathroom in a few days.
Please, for all that is good in the world, don’t ask me about my bowel habits.
3. No, we’re not making up our stomachaches.
Seriously, ask our doctor! They’re unpredictable and extremely inconvenient.
But, more than that, they’re not just the typical stomachaches you sometimes get after eating too much food or eating something that doesn’t agree with your stomach. These stomachaches come with crippling pain, dull aches, and an uncomfortable feeling of bloatedness. They’re serious business.
4. No, Tums won’t help.
Please don’t offer us medical advice based on your zero years spent in medical school. Believe us, we’ve tried it all.
Tums, Pepto Bismol—they may work for your everyday stomachaches, but they’re no match for IBS. Medications prescribed by our doctors may work, but even those are only maybes.
5. We always need to know where the nearest bathroom is…
Because, you know… crap happens! (Pun totally intended.)
We know it’s inconvenient to have to cater to us on shopping trips, dinner dates, etc., and we’re sorry. It’s beyond our control, but it always makes us feel better to be prepared and know where the bathrooms are located.
6. Colonoscopies are not pleasant.
There’s really no worse experience, except maybe childbirth or severe injury. They’re invasive, they’re uncomfortable, and you’re out of it for the whole day because of the anesthesia.
But still, for IBS patients, they’re an all-too-regular occurrence. We’d like to say we’re not looking for sympathy here, but we totally are.
7. Actually, the colonoscopy prep is the worst.
If you wonder why the smell of anything lemon-scented makes me gag, here you go!
Sitting on a toilet for twelve hours isn’t my idea of fun, and the prep drink is the most disgusting thing you’ll ever taste in your life. And then you have to have a colonoscopy after.
8. There is no cure for IBS.
We can take all the medications you shove down our throats and see the best doctors in the world—flare-ups are still going to happen.
There’s no magic pill we can take to get rid of our symptoms. Some symptoms are easier to control than others, but the IBS still is never going to completely go away.
9. No, IBS doesn’t mean constant diarrhea.
In fact, a decent amount of IBS sufferers have IBS-C, with the “C” standing for constipation. Some people have diarrhea ten times a day, others are only able to poop once a week.
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” in terms of what type of IBS someone has, so please don’t make assumptions.
10. IBS is more common than you think.
Over 58 million Americans suffer from IBS. Someone you know—a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker—is suffering from it, so it’s important to know that it’s more than what it sounds like.
To put things into perspective, that’s over 10% of the US population dealing with this horrible stomach pain, uncomfortable bloating, and sometimes diarrhea and/or constipation.
11. No, losing weight/eating healthy won’t cure my IBS.
Don’t you think I’ve thought of that by now? Doctors agree that changing your diet isn’t enough to relieve IBS symptoms. I can double up on my kale smoothies and hit the gym five times a week, but that’s not going to cure my IBS.
IBS affects people of all ages, shapes, and sizes, so pointing out that I could do well to lose a few pounds doesn’t change anything. Also, it’s just rude.
12. Any stomach pain or constipation is not automatically IBS.
We’ve kept food diaries, gotten blood work done, and had some pretty invasive procedures done to get to this diagnosis. We didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Hey, this stomach pain I have is IBS.”
It’s a real medical condition, and it’s not something we made up so we’d have a diagnosis.
13. Stress can and does make our symptoms worse.
In fact, it’s one of the main triggers of IBS symptoms, and one that can sometimes be controlled by eliminating the stress. When we complain about stress in our lives, it’s not just to sound whiney.
Beyond the inconvenience added stress causes, it’s having a real impact on our health—which leads me to my next point…
14. We, more than other people, dread the most stressful times of year—exams, big work projects, and so on.
Our IBS gets even worse than usual, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Stress can make our sharp stomach pains worse, cause more frequent bathroom trips, and more.
Imagine having to deal with that on top of the stress that you’re already dealing with. Brutal.
15. We can go from looking slim to looking 8 months pregnant in a matter of minutes.
It’s the bloat—we promise! If you see someone with IBS looking rounder than usual, chances are that they’re dealing with a flare-up and are bloated to the max.
Don’t mention it, please. We already know we’re bloated and we hate that this symptom is unfortunately very visible at times.
16. Our outfit choices are too often ruled by our IBS.
Skin-tight jeans? Forget about it. Crop tops? Not a chance. Our wardrobes are ruled by elastic waistbands and loose-fitting tops.
While it might be nice to wear the hottest new styles, constricting clothing can cause more problems with IBS, and it generally just isn’t worth it. (P.S. If someone could invent trendy elastic-waisted jeans, that would be great!)
17. You can recommend your cousin’s mother-in-law’s sister’s gastroenterologist all you want—it won’t make a difference.
Seriously. There’s no cure for IBS and no doctor is going to tell us something our previous doctors haven’t already.
It’s great that the person you’re referencing has found a doctor that works for them, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to magically find a new way to treat my IBS. You don’t know what their medical situation is or what my medical situation is.
18. Going “number two” doesn’t magically fix things.
We’ve heard, “Go to the bathroom… you’ll feel better,” too many times to count.
We can’t magically poop out our IBS. The stomachaches don’t go away after going to the bathroom. In fact, sometimes going to the bathroom can even make them worse.
The bloat, sharp pains, and discomfort are super annoying, but being told we can magically poop them out is even more annoying.
19. We really can’t control our IBS.
Believe us… we’ve tried everything—from herbal remedies to new medications. Occasionally we find something that offers some temporary relief, but we really have no control over when our symptoms flare up.
We may have a tea that works great or a favorite yoga position that helps with stomach discomfort, but that doesn’t help much when we’re out at a restaurant and our symptoms appear out of nowhere.
20. Yes, we know IBS sucks.
It’s inconvenient, both for us and for the people in our lives who care about us. We suffer from awful symptoms, and it often impacts those around us—from having to leave a get-together early because it hurts to stand to stopping five times while shopping with friends to use the bathroom.
There’s nothing any of us can do, but, unfortunately, we’re stuck with it.