My name is John … and have IBS

I initially wrote this in 2017. It took me a long time to be brave enough to share these thoughts, although it was on my mind for a while. Now as I transfer popular content over to my new blogging platform, I noticed this post has been read 448 times. So it would be wrong not to include it again. If it helped just 1 of the 448 it was worth it.

It can be hard to be open about something that makes you different from everyone else, but often we only think we are different, until we find out others are actually the same.

“Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the name given to a longstanding illness consisting of frequent abdominal discomfort and bowel symptoms that cannot be explained by any other disease.” IBSnetwork.org

There are many triggers for IBS episodes and although some are common to all people, others are very specific to individuals. I believe that after receiving a diagnosis, the most important thing you can do, is identify your triggers. Controlling triggers leads to a better life. Although I have had a sensitive stomach for most of my life, I was not diagnosed with IBS until 2012. Finding and avoiding my triggers, has been a part of my life since.

Symptoms

IBS suffers can experience a range of symptoms. The condition can be broken into subsets, IBS-C or IBS-D, the suffix letter being constipation or diarrhea. Very lucky people like me have IBS C&D, often alternating on the same day or even hour.
Along with sudden onset bowel movements (rapid need to pay a visit), many sufferers have abdominal pain of a similar intensity to a severe stitch, generally in the left side just behind the belt line. This stitch like pain can last all day. Some people have far more severe pain.

What’s happening inside

The last section of the intestines. the colon, is a muscle tube that pulsates in a wave like fashion. Initially it is easy to think that eating a trigger food, such as raw onion, results in an urgent visit to the toilet, because the food is going “straight through the system” In reality the onion entering the stomach triggers a spasm affect lower in the colon, which can make it move previous meals rapidly causing, diarrhea or, cause the colon to freeze, again painful but resulting in constipation. The sigmoid colon is where most pain occurs.

Diagnosis 

The process of diagnosis is actually more ruling out other potential problems. For me the final indicator was a colonoscopy. The nurse who did my prep, reassuringly told me that most people don’t need a sedative for the procedure as it doesn’t hurt, then added… “unless you have IBS and then you may feel significant discomfort”. I remembered those words during the procedure.. as I was bent double in pain, begging for a bowl to be sick and with a nurse pinning me down to stop me moving. The procedure was cut short with the doctor saying “It’s IBS”

Managing

As I wrote earlier, the daily life of a sufferer includes, finding and avoiding, or at least coping with, triggers. Medication available is in the form of antispasmodic tablets. I now resort to taking the tablets only when I have sustained painful episodes.
One result of my condition is that my eating habbits are very predictable. Those that know me well think I am really boring, always ordering the same meals in restaurants. The reality is, it’s safer to stick to what you know than risk the effects whilst out. I do feel saddened sometimes when I see people randomly buying snacks or food to consume, it would be nice to be able to eat without thought for consequences.

Triggers

Different for everyone, but here are some of mine.

Onions especially, raw on a salad, or fried onion rings.
Spicy food, hot curries and seasonings.
Too much bread.
Non soluble roughage such as bran and rye.
Red meat.
Too many vegetables.
Dark green leaf salads, rocket, kale etc.
Just eating a meal prepared in a different way than I am use to.

In addition to food triggers, stress can cause episodes too, including.
Confrontational situations.
Interviews, tests, worrying about other illness’s or doctors appointments.
Public speaking or standing in front of people to teach.
But by far the most ironic situation is fear of not being near a toilet. This last trigger can be debilitating and self fulfilling if you let it!

The IBS network produces cards you can keep in your wallet for emergencies. Sufferers also qualify for a RADAR key to access locked disability toilets.

Good food and habits.

Soluble roughage such as porridge and boiled rice.
Eating porridge or yogurt in a morning has changed my life for the better.
Swapping battered fish and chips for pan fried fish fillet and rice also had a great affect.
Stick to foods you know and trust, unless you feel the enjoyment of a meal outweighs the consequences.

Regular exercise such as running helps digestion.

The stress related triggers are harder to manage. These are best done with relaxation and breathing techniques There is a great app called Calm that helps. If all else fails, go to the toilet twice before the event starts !!

Summary

If you or someone you know has IBS its not something that is easy to speak about, but that is just because we don’t speak about it enough. Its important to be open with someone you live with or waiting for toilet trips could become frustrating.

I am not an expert, I can and should do more to mitigate symptoms which would further improve my lifestyle, but it is a work in progress.

If you or a family member suffer with this, more information can be found on the website of the IBS Network

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