I have to admit that IBS isn't a topic I'd normally think of talking about with you all here on Smart Savvy Living, but I know many of us suffer from IBS in silence. So, when the American Gastroenterological Association asked to partner with us to talk about IBS in America, I couldn't say no, especially since we're heading out of the season of heavy foods where IBS symptoms may skyrocket. While this article is based on my own experiences with IBS, do keep in mind that it may not be representative of everyone's experience. #IBSinAmerica
What Is IBS?
IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and, in my opinion, is about as awesome as it sounds. Symptoms vary from person to person but can include a wide variety of recurring digestive symptoms such as abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and/or cramping.
What's The Big Deal About IBS?
We all have digestive issues now and then, so what's the big deal about IBS? Yes, we all eat things that may not agree with us from time to time or have something like the stomach flu. But, what if you had the symptoms from that every month, sometimes multiple times a month, without any warning? As stated in the "IBS in America" survey, symptoms can be so bad that 55% of survey respondents would give up caffeine, 47% would give up their cell phone or internet, and 40% would give up sex, for one whole month, just to feel a month of relief. It may be a bit TMI, but I have to admit that for the several times I have spent lying in bed with severe abdominal pain or on the throne for an hour or more at 3 or 4 in the morning, I would give them all up for relief. Plus, when those symptoms are triggered, it pretty much ruins your whole day because you are tired, don't feel like doing anything, and sometimes you have digestive issues all day long. The survey says that, on average, IBS sufferer's symptoms interfere with their productivity and performance an average of 9 days a month. That's almost one-third of the month! On average, those with IBS also miss two days of school or work a month. That can add up a lot, especially when you don't have many sick or vacation days to begin with.
I know from experience that IBS can also weigh on you personally and eat away at your self-confidence. Our bathroom and digestive habits aren't something most of us enjoy talking about to our doctors, nevertheless when we're trying to tell a friend why we can't go out tonight. I'm already an introvert and a bout of IBS makes me feel even more introverted and embarrassed to bail on my friends yet again without going into more detail to tell them why. In fact, the survey states that most of us would be more uncomfortable talking about our bowel habits than STD's. But, nearly 35 million Americans suffer from IBS and many of us even have IBS and don't realize that's what it is. In the survey, 67% of those that responded said they experienced symptoms for more than a year before talking to a doctor, and even 11% waited a decade or more. I can't tell you how thankful I am to have a job I can set my own hours for and complete at home as I have always worried about being able to make it to a regular 9 - 5 job with the symptoms I sometimes have.
Unfortunately, it's not really known what causes IBS, but it is obvious that it is a major factor in many of our lives here in the United States. It is thought that some triggers can include certain food and beverages, stress, hormones (such as that time of the month), or having other major illnesses that affect the digestive tract. But, I have to say that it really is okay to talk to your doctor and try to come up with a plan to alleviate your symptoms, or, at least, lessen how often or severe they are. Starting that discussion early can lead to less stress down the road, which, of course, leads to a happier life. If you suffer from recurring abdominal and bowel symptoms, please make a 2016 resolution to take care of your GI health with the help of your doctor! I know that for me, over-the-counter treatments really don't work that well, but trying to limit my stress, staying away from what I have discovered to be trigger foods, and expecting things to go a bit awry during that time of month help me manage my own symptoms a lot.
While all experiences and opinions are my own, this post is sponsored by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), which commissioned the “IBS in America” survey, the most comprehensive IBS survey of both patients and physicians ever conducted, polling more than 3,200 sufferers and 300 physicians to better understand this condition, with the financial support of Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Allergan plc. For full survey results, visit http://bit.ly/1LwtDgp.