How to Talk About Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome know its symptoms all too well: pain, cramps, gassiness, bloating, bowel habit changes, constipation, diarrhea.

Unlike many other health conditions, IBS is hard to talk about. From the time we were young children, we’ve been taught our bodily functions are taboo topics of conversation and we have to hide the noises they can sometimes make.

Because of this, people who suffer from IBS often feel embarrassed about their condition. IBS can make doing normal, everyday things challenging and uncomfortable. Going to parties, out to dinner, or even being at work can be stressful when you have IBS.

That’s why the best thing you can do is stop thinking it’s a forbidden subject and find ways to tell important people in your life about it.

Getting Over Embarrassment and Shame

Everybody Poops, as the popular children’s book reminds us. They also pass gas and all sorts of other things too. The point is if you can learn to be comfortable with this, you’ll be able to:

  • Get comfortable with treating body functions as parts of life that aren’t shameful.
  • Understand that when people laugh about “bathroom things” or audible gas sounds, it’s a laugh of recognition. They’ve been there too. Everyone has.

Understand the Burden of Keeping Secrets

Trying to keep IBS a secret can put more stress on you and your body than just letting it be known you have it. And as you know, stress can make IBS worse.

One study found that keeping secrets literally weighed people down. Getting rid of the weight of hiding your IBS can reduce your pain and suffering, and really make life easier on you as a whole.

How You Can Tell People

Despite what many of us think, people are more understanding than we give them credit for. Especially when it’s something we have no control over.

Below are common situations you’ve probably been in if you have IBS. You can use these responses to say that IBS is the reason for your behavior.

  1. If you have to change plans you made: I have a digestive disorder called IBS. It’s acting up right now and I need to stay home or in a place close to the bathroom. I hope you can understand.
  2. If you can’t eat the food someone offers you: It looks delicious and I would really love to eat it, but I have IBS and that’s one of the many foods that set it off. If I eat it, I’ll suffer later.
  3. If you don’t know whether you can go to something you’ve been invited to: It’s hard for me to say if I can go or not right now. I have a digestive disorder called IBS, and it’s giving me a lot of trouble at the moment. I’m hoping it gets better soon. But who knows. Can I get back to you?
  4. If you spend a lot of time in the bathroom: I know I’ve been having some two magazine mornings lately. My IBS has been making me constipated. It should get better soon. Thanks for understanding.
  5. If you’re late to work because of a flare-up: You’ve probably noticed there are some days I’ve been coming in to work late. I have a digestive disorder called IBS, and it’s been giving me trouble in the morning. To make up for my tardiness, I’ve been working later. I apologize for the inconvenience.
  6. If you have to leave your desk at work frequently: You probably think I’m training for a marathon with the number of times I dash from my desk during the day. Actually, I have IBS. It’s a digestive disorder and it makes me have to use the restroom more than the average person. I’m perfectly healthy and you don’t need to worry about me. I just wanted you to know I’m not avoiding work.
  7. If you’ve been dating someone and it’s getting serious: It’s not easy to tell you this, but it’s important for you to know. I have a digestive disorder called IBS. Don’t worry, it’s not life threatening or anything like that. But it does force me to be extra careful with things most people don’t have to worry about, like which foods I eat, and how close I am to bathrooms. Spending time with you is important to me, so I thought you should know.
  8. If they want to offer advice you already know doesn’t work: Thanks for the advice. I’ve had this for a while now and I’ve learned what works for me and what doesn’t. Sometimes the hard way. I appreciate your concern and offer to help.

Passing Judgment

You’ve probably learned with other things in life that some people are immature. Others aren’t very kind. And some just can’t handle things.

If you run into any of these people, don’t let them upset you, and don’t take their behavior or comments personally. Enjoy your life and all of the good people in it who support you.

Meet the Author

Thomas Robert Puetz, MD is a Gastroenterologist at Aurora Advanced Healthcare in Mequon, Wisconsin.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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