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IBS Isn’t a Temporary Thing

A bad bellyache or bout of the stomach flu isn’t IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome is a life-long condition that brings severe stomach pain and repeated diarrhea, constipation, or both. Between 25 million and 45 million people in the U.S. have IBS.  

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It’s More Than an Inconvenience

You don’t know when IBS symptoms will strike, or how bad they will be. Sometimes, they’re manageable. Other times, they’re disabling. Someone with IBS-D (IBS with diarrhea) may have 10 or more bouts of loose stools a day -- even with medication. Symptoms get in the way of work, school, and social activities.

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It’s Not Just a Woman’s Disease

Yes, IBS is more common in females. But guys get it, too. About 1 in 3 people who have IBS are male. However, guys in North America are less likely to tell their doctors about it than fellas from other continents.

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Your IBS Is Not My IBS

Everyone with IBS has a different experience. There are three main types of it.  If you have IBS-D, diarrhea is the main symptom. IBS-C features constipation. People with IBS-mixed have diarrhea and constipation. No matter what type people have, most of the time, doctors don’t know what’s causing it.

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Bathroom Anxiety Is Real

Someone with IBS doesn’t have time to wait until the next rest area for a restroom -- especially if they have IBS-D.  People with IBS often map out the location of public restrooms before they leave the house. A third of people with the disorder say they stay away from events that don’t have nearby bathrooms. If you know someone with IBS, you can help by understanding when they say, “I need a bathroom now.”  

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Calling in Sick Happens a Lot

The 2015 IBS in America survey found that students and workers with IBS miss an average of 2 days a month. Someone with IBS may cancel social and family activities at the last minute, too. That’s because an IBS flare happens in an instant, and there’s no way to know when one will strike. 

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There’s No Magic Diet

Foods that trigger IBS symptoms in one person don’t always cause trouble for another. What’s even trickier is that something might be fine to eat today but terrible to eat tomorrow. The connection between foods and flareups is complicated. People with IBS know what they can and can’t have -- and when. If it’s a bad symptom day, they may pass on the office snacks.

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Our Symptoms Are Really Bad

In a recent survey, 4 out of 10 people with IBS would give up sex for a month to feel better. The American Gastroenterological Association also found that 47% of folks with IBS would give up Internet access for a month for relief. More than 50% say they would give up coffee for 30 days for freedom from their discomfort.

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Stress Makes Things Worse

A first date, final exam, or big meeting with the boss can be an IBS nightmare. That’s because the brain rules the gut. Stress makes things move around more in your colon. Anybody can get a nervous belly if they’re stressed, but people with IBS feel it even more.

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Bowel Troubles Aren’t Normal

Many people live with IBS symptoms for years without treatment because they think what they’re going through is the norm. In fact, most folks wait at least a year before they make an appointment. More than 10% put up with it for more than a decade before they have the conversation. If you think something’s up, see your doctor right away.

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Medicines Can’t Cure It

There’s no cure for IBS. Things like meds, changes to your diet, counseling, and stress relief ease symptoms but give only temporary relief. Over-the-counter products are out there to treat diarrhea or constipation. Still, the pain and cramping can be so tough, some folks need prescription medicine. Research continues to find new treatments, but chances are if your friend has had IBS for a while, they’ve tried almost everything.

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Have Your Friend’s Back

Talking about toilet topics is often taboo, and people with IBS fear they might gross you out. Some prefer privacy. Others will tell you why they missed a day of work or turned down an invite -- if you genuinely want to know. Be supportive and listen without judgment.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 02/02/2019 Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on February 02, 2019

SOURCES:

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: “Facts About IBS,” “IBS in Men.”

Ashkan Farhadi, MD, gastroenterologist, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, Fountain Valley, CA.

Tina Tarbox, Madison, AL.

American Gastroenterological Association: “IBS in America.”

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on February 02, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.