Coping with Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) presents a number of daily challenges. While there is no cure for the disorder, treatments are available for this medical condition.
Before anything else, it is important to see your doctor to figure out the right treatment options for you, says Edward Blanchard, PhD, professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany.
"Manage your IBS first," he says.
Next, 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.
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 them at (888) 964-2001. There's also the Intestinal Disease Foundation at www.intestinalfoundation.org, or at (877) 587-9606.
These groups have plenty of information about IBS and referrals to doctors and support networks.
Know Your 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 write down what you were doing, how you were feeling, and what type of food or medications you consumed before and when symptoms showed up.
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. He says it will help loved ones to know that IBS is a real illness, which could impact not only your life, but theirs as well.
Roberts, who manages his own IBS, says there are times when the disorder makes him and his family late for an event. 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 upfront with them, says Lynn Jacks, founder of an IBS support group in Summit, N.J. She says more people today know about the syndrome and understand its implications. In fact, in an episode of the TV program The Sopranos, one of the characters, Adriana, is diagnosed with IBS.