Survey: Irritable Bowel Syndrome Is An Isolating, Devastating Disorder

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is without a doubt a mystery to modern medicine. It's not an inflammatory bowel disease, meaning the bowel mucosa of individuals with IBS looks normal under microscopic study. Most people with IBS aren't anemic or emaciated like those with other bowel disorders. They also have not been proven to have higher chances of colon cancer, unlike those with ulcerative colitis. While all of these are positives, there is a big negative when suffering from IBS: many people, including physicians, don't understand it or think it's really as damaging to daily life as sufferers perceive it to be.

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[Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images]It's thought that 10-15 percent of people suffer from IBS, including adolescents. However, this number is difficult to prove because many have not been properly diagnosed or because many people in their individual family are affected by it that they consider it "normal for them" and have never seen a physician for it. IBS does seem to run in families and is often confused with food allergies and celiac disease. Because most people have symptoms that come and go or changing symptoms, it's often hard to adequately describe the symptoms to others or a physician. This can lead to people underestimating the severity of symptoms.

What are the signs and symptoms? According to respondents, the most frequent and bothersome symptoms were urgent need to move bowels (77 percent), persistent and frequent diarrhea (66 percent), and frequent bowel movements in general (63 percent). When urgency is combined with frequency, it creates a serious problem for the individual. It's difficult to work, ride for long periods in a car, or go anywhere with other people. Activities of daily life are severely limited and that can lead to social anxiety and depression, which may exacerbate the situation. With only 2 percent of people reporting good control of their IBS symptoms, there is significant work to be done concerning educating physicians and patients, according to Eureka Alert.

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Talking about bowels and diarrhea is often embarrassing, so many people suffer silently and deal with it as best they can, which is not a particularly good strategy, but one of the most frequently used. Patient Emily Downward speaks on the logistics of living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

"I've seen a number of healthcare practitioners for my IBS, including physicians, naturopaths, and acupuncturists. Some have been more helpful than others, but through all my relationships and searching for the right solution for me, I've learned how to be a better advocate for my own health. No one can tell you what is best for you. They can offer suggestions and options, but it's up to the individual to decide and to weigh the risks and benefits of each treatment option."
Some strategies are frequently employed by sufferers with various results: attempting to lower psychosocial stressors, avoiding certain foods, avoiding alcohol, treating with over-the-counter anti-diarrheals, exercise, and the use of probiotics. Social support may be one of the best tools, so that individuals know they aren't the only people living with the syndrome.

Tim Armand, president and co-founder of Health Union, says the responses to the questionnaire demonstrate how difficult it is to live with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Armand said over one thousand people willingly responded to the survey.

"Living with IBS can be very frustrating. Changing diet may help, but doesn't always work to prevent symptoms, and other people don't understand how much of an impact IBS has on daily life. We hope that can help fill the gap by providing information and community support that is often now lacking."
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