Coping with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) presents a number of daily challenges. While there is no cure for the disorder, treatments are available.
Learn as much as you can about the syndrome. It helps to talk with your doctor. Ask him or her any questions you may have about the disorder, no matter how embarrassing it might be. The more you know about your condition and the type of IBS you have, the better you can deal with it.
I've had the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome -- a gastrointestinal disorder -- for my whole life, but when I was younger, I didn't realize anything was wrong. My parents thought my cramps, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea were normal because they had similar symptoms. So I thought it was normal, too. As I grew up, I pretty much just coped with it. It was inconvenient, but I did my best.
But three years ago, when I was 27, after having some minor surgery done, I had the worst symptoms ever...
Also, read books, pamphlets, and reliable sources of information on the Internet. Try the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) at www.iffgd.org, or call the organization at (888) 964-2001. You can find information about IBS, health care provider directories, and support networks.
Know Your IBS Triggers and Symptoms
Keeping track of your symptoms is another helpful tool. In a symptom journal, record when and where you experienced any stomach pain, discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. Also include what you were doing, how you were feeling, and what type of food or medications you consumed before and when symptoms appeared. All this information may help you and your doctor determine what triggers your IBS. Then you can take reasonable steps such as dietary modification to prevent problems and take control of your life.
Talk Openly About IBS
Remember, you don't have to be alone in dealing with IBS. Seek out support from trusted family and friends.
"They could be your best resource," says Jeffrey Roberts, president and founder of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Self Help and Support Group.
Roberts, who manages his own IBS, says there are times when the disorder makes him and his family late for an event because he needs to use the bathroom. Because they know about his condition, they are more understanding.
At work, talking to a trusted supervisor or co-worker may make it easier for you to deal with the disorder. Let them know that you have a valid chronic illness, and when symptoms flare up, you have no control over it, suggests Roberts. This might mean bringing in educational materials about the disorder. At the same time, tell them that you've got a plan to deal with the syndrome (such as taking medication or going to the bathroom a few times), and that, despite it all, you'll remain a dedicated worker. If you have a problem with your union or boss, it might help to get a note from your doctor, explaining the illness and what might occur with symptoms.
You may well find that most people are more supportive if you're honest with them, says Lynn Jacks, founder of an IBS support group in Summit, N.J.