Living with IBS: Symptoms, Stigma, and How to Manage it Effectively

Living with IBS: Symptoms, Stigma, and How to Manage it Effectively

Written by Caleb Johnson

It’s thought that around 20% of the UK are affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in their lifetime, and up to 75% of people go undiagnosed.    

Okay, IBS might not be the alphabet soup that you bargained for today (minestrone with a side of digestive health issues anyone?). However, with the misinformation, embarrassment and stigma surrounding the condition, it’s important for us all to understand the ins and outs of it so we can look after our own health, and advocate for the health of others.  

If we assume that IBS is just a case of the runs or simply melodramatic food intolerances, we could be feeding our own intolerances to healthy conversations. That’s why we’re here to unpack the nuances of IBS, bust a few myths, and provide tips on how to manage it effectively while encouraging you to take control of your digestive health.  

Unraveling IBS: The gut feeling 

What is IBS? 

IBS is a digestive health condition where the intestines become highly sensitive. This can be due to specific dietary sensitivities, or even down to a change in the microbes that live in your gut. It can also occur due to stress, anxiety or depression. 

Specific events called ‘triggers’ can cause an IBS flare-up, where symptoms worsen. There’s no one true source of what causes IBS, it’s nuanced, and triggers can be completely different from person to person. 

Spotting the Signs of IBS 

Identifying IBS can feel a bit like an unfair game of Cluedo, opening the results can often lead to more questions than you had to begin with. The most common sign is abdominal pain which is usually accompanied by bloating. But it's not just about stomach woes; irregular bowel habits tend to throw themselves into the mix too.  

One day things are racing through you, the next you’ve come to a standstill—it can be hard to keep up with all the going ons and outs of your body. Other signs, often overlooked, include excessive gas and a feeling of an incomplete bowel movement that leaves you planning your next bathroom visit before you've even left the toilet seat. Sound familiar? It could be worth chatting with a healthcare professional.  

Living with IBS can involve lesser-known symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, stress, heartburn, indigestion, and skin issues such as rashes or eczema. These symptoms can be interconnected and exacerbate digestive problems, so it's important to recognise and address them as part of managing IBS.  

Navigating IBS Stigma 

The Social Impact of IBS 

Living with IBS isn't just a private matter; it can play an uninvited role in your social life too. The stigma is real. People with IBS often face misunderstanding, keeping their struggles on the low to save embarrassment. It's not easy when your gut's on a rampage and you're trying to play it cool at your surprise birthday party. 

The stress from worrying about potential public episodes can fuel IBS symptoms, leaving you feeling like you’re going around in circles. It's important to remember you're not alone. Millions are navigating this same tricky terrain, and opening up about it can be the first step in breaking down the barriers.  

IBS vs. IBS-D: Understanding the Difference 

Not all people with IBS experience diarrhoea, but some do. IBS-D means diarrhoea-predominant. If you spend more time on the throne, constantly wondering “When will this turmoil end?”, you might be in the IBS-D camp. Usually, people with IBS-D will be hit with sudden, urgent toilet trips and a looser chocolate pudding consistency. This can make leaving the house more difficult when you don’t know where the nearest toilet will be when you need it. 

On the flip side, regular IBS, also known as IBS-M (mixed) or IBS-C (constipation-predominant), can swing between constipation and diarrhea like a digestive pendulum. Those with IBS-C might envy the IBS-D crowd on days when 'nothing's moving'. There’s no one way that IBS can affect someone, it's an unlucky dip.  

Breaking the Silence Around Bowel Health 

It's high time we flushed the taboo around talking toilets and bowel health. After all, everyone has a digestive system, and a good number of us will carry the IBS torch at some point in our lives. Breaking the silence starts with swapping whispers for open conversations. Chat about IBS over coffee as casually as you'd discuss the weather. Check up on your friends with IBS and see if you can help make their lives more comfortable.  

Common IBS Misconceptions 

IBS or Something Else? 

When your stomach's playing up, it's easy to jump to the conclusion of the dreaded acronym but hold your horses—it could be an imposter. Symptoms of IBS often mimic those of other conditions such as lactose intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, and even anxiety disorders.  

It's crucial to play detective with your doctor, looking for clues and ruling out other suspects before pinning it on IBS. A thorough medical evaluation is key, as treating IBS when it's something else is like using sellotape on a leaky pipe—it won't fix the underlying issue. So, make sure to get the right diagnosis for the right treatment. Your tummy will thank you

Myths That Need Busting 

When it comes to IBS, myths are all too common, leading to misunderstanding and even more stigma around the condition. Here’s a few busted myths for you:  

IBS is all in your head: Sure, stress can aggravate it, but IBS isn't a figment of your imagination—it's as physical as the toilet you're sitting on.  

IBS is caused by poor diet alone: While what you eat can play a role, it's not the whole story. Stress, mental wellness and the ever-changing gut microbiome are also part of the mix.   

IBS leads to more serious diseases, like cancer: This is pure fiction; IBS is troublesome, but it doesn't increase your risk for more sinister conditions as it doesn't cause inflammation, unlike other conditions like IBD.   

IBS is rare: In fact, it's really quite common. It’s so common that you probably know several others with IBS. As we mentioned earlier, it’s thought that 20% of the UK population suffers with IBS at some point in their lives, so never feel like you’re alone in it.   

It's time to bust these myths and break down the taboo so that those with IBS can feel confident in seeking the right support to handle their condition.  

Living with IBS: Daily Management 

Lifestyle Tweaks for IBS Relief 

Adjusting your daily routine can often help keep IBS symptoms at bay. It can be a bit like fine-tuning a guitar; a few small twists can make a big difference to the harmony. Here’s how you can try to manage IBS symptoms: 

Observe your diet: Note down what you eat and how it affects you. Some common triggers are fatty foods, dairy, and the sneaky FODMAPs (short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly) that are hard to digest.  

Get fibre obsessed: Aim for 25-30g a day and bask in soluble fibre from foods like oats and carrots, which tend to be gentler on the gut.   

Get on the hydration hype: Hydration is key; drink 6-8 glasses of water to keep things flowing smoothly. 

Move that body: This keeps the bowels moving almost as much as that morning cup of coffee that sends you running to the porcelain throne.  

Watch out for these: High-fat foods, caffeine, and alcohol might be party favorites, but they can crash the gut's party when IBS is involved. 

Clean gently: Use a soothing and moisturising toilet paper gel to aid your cleansing routine when things get messy. 

Manage stress: Whether through yoga, meditation, or a hearty laugh with friends, keeping calm can keep your gut from throwing a tantrum.  

Bask in routine: Do this for meals and bathroom breaks, it can help train your digestive system to be a bit more predictable.  

If you're experiencing a flare up, over the counter pain medication, a heating pad, gentle abdominal massage, deep breathing, yoga, and peppermint oil may help symptoms resolve more quickly too. 

Knowing When to Seek Help 

Warning Signs: When to seek medical support 

While managing IBS often involves home remedies and lifestyle changes, it's crucial to seek medical advice for severe or worsening symptoms, such as intense pain, unexpected weight loss, or blood in your stool. If you're over 50 or have a family history of gastrointestinal diseases, you should also consult a healthcare professional. 

Taking these steps is proactive and essential for your health. It's important to listen to your body's signals and remember that reaching out to a doctor is not waving a white flag—it's taking charge of your health.  

Empowering Your Health Journey with IBS 

Taking control of your IBS means becoming the CEO of your own bottom health. It's about knowing when to handle symptoms on your own and when to call for reinforcements. Empowerment comes from educating yourself about IBS, understanding your body, and tracking your symptoms like a pro. Knowledge is poo-wer, and the more you know, the better you can advocate for yourself in a doctor's office.   

Keep a symptom diary, and don't shy away from discussing the gritty details with your doctor—they've heard it all before! Building a support network is also vital. Whether it's friends, family, or online communities, sharing experiences and tips can be incredibly validating. Remember, having IBS doesn't define you, and seeking help is a sign of strength. By taking proactive steps, you can navigate IBS with confidence and keep your focus on living a full and vibrant life.  

The bottom line 

So, we’ve taken you through the basics of IBS, we’ve busted some myths and shone a light on how you can try and handle the condition. Hopefully, you now feel empowered to open the conversation on IBS, or better, to take IBS by the horns and snatch back control of your bottom health journey. Remember, the more we talk about it with our loved ones and medical professionals, the better the support for everyone.  

Struggling with irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhoea? We know that trying to get clean can lead to over-wiping and unwanted soreness down there. Wype helps you clean up gently yet effectively with natural and organic ingredients that soothe and moisturise the area to reduce irritation, leaving you feeling clean, comfortable and healthy after each toilet trip.  

Try the Wype Starter Kit and see how it can upgrade your toilet routine! 


Irritable Bowel Syndrome FAQs

What is the cause of IBS?
There's no clear cause for IBS. It can occur due to stress and anxiety, from diet, or from a change in our gut microbiome. There's no one true source. It can also occur after a bacterial infection or a parasitic infection (giardiasis) of the intestines. This is called postinfectious IBS.
Is IBS a serious condition?
Although IBS is usually a life long condition, and can cause discomfort and pain, it can often be managed through lifestyle changes. Luckily, IBS does not pose serious threat to the body, and does not increase the chance of developing more serious digestive health issues or cancer.
How long does an IBS flare up last?
The duration of an IBS flare up can vary greatly from person to person.In general, a flare up will last anywhere from a few ours to several days. In other cases, it's not uncommon for a flare up to last longer than that.
Can IBS be cured?
Although there is currently no cure, researchers continue to investigate one. Doctors can recommend and prescribe various treatments to improve a person's IBS symptoms. These include dietary changes, medication, and mental health therapies.
What are the symptoms of the irritable bowel syndrome?
The common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, bloating, excess gas, diarrhoea, constipation, fatigue and anxiety. Patients with IBS may describe the abdominal discomfort in different ways, such as sharp pain, cramping, bloating, distention, fullness or even burning.


  • Ruth

    As an diagnosed IBS sufferer, I really appreciate you trying to lessen the taboos associated with this and other ‘digestive/toilet/bum’ related issues.
    Thank you

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