Just when she should've been enjoying life the most, Amber Vesey reached her lowest point.
By the time she was in college, the irritable bowel syndrome she'd been diagnosed with at 15 was sending her to the hospital over and over again. It morphed into the type of the disease that comes with diarrhea (IBS-D), and then settled into IBS-mixed, which also includes constipation.
Doctors don’t know for sure what causes irritable bowel syndrome, but some things seem to make people more likely to have it than others. These risk factors for IBS include:
Being a woman. About twice as many women as men have the condition. It’s not clear why, but some researchers think the changing hormones in the menstrual cycle may have something to do with it.
Age. IBS can affect people of all ages, but it's more likely for people in their teens through their 40s.
She couldn't go out because she had to use the bathroom so often. She even had to have private conversations with professors so they'd know why she kept running out of class.
"I was only in my early 20s. I thought, 'I'm not supposed to be miserable. I'm not supposed to be in on a Friday night because I can't leave the apartment,'" recalls Vesey, now 25.
Things are different for her today. She's learned ways to keep her condition from running her life.
"I embrace it as opposed to seeing it as a negative," she says. "I've found out what works for me."
You can take control of your life, too, when you have IBS-D. With a few lifestyle tweaks and a little planning, you'll be off to a great start.
1. Know where the bathrooms are.
Whenever she goes to a party these days, Vesey first considers whether there'll be a bathroom.
Not only is this common sense, it helps relieve the anxiety which often makes IBS symptoms worse.
Download one of many apps that pinpoint nearby bathrooms. You should also check to see if your state is one of more than a dozen that has passed "Ally's Law." This "restroom access" legislation requires retail businesses to let people with bowel disorders use their bathrooms.
If your state is not on the list, just say you have a "chronic medical condition."
2. Plan your route.
In case you need a bathroom before you get to where you’re going, find out where rest stops are along the way. There are apps out there that can show you. Take into account highway driving ("How long before the next exit or rest area?") as well as tolls.