Hellooo and welcome to my IBS ASK-ME-ANYTHING. Hope you’re well, let’s talk about shit, shall we?
I am internet famous now for two things: my many missing toenails and my irritating bowels. Mum, dad, I did it! Are you proud?
Haha, yes, yes, hella glamorous, we’ll do autographs at the end.
For now though, seeing as it is such a colossal area of my life (both personally and “professionally”), and something that a LOT more people can relate to than only having seven toenails, I thought I would pull together some of my most frequently asked IBS questions and do my best to give advice, put your mind at ease and share my story.
I’ll start by explaining: I am 25, a relatively fit and healthy London-dwelling gal that, out of bloody nowhere on my 20th birthday had an asthma attack. A little while later I developed stomach issues (had the shits non stop and bloating that most pre-natal teachers would be impressed with) and by the end of last year I found myself vomiting up damn near everything I ate.
I am feeling alright at the moment but have seriously adapted my lifestyle, I watch my diet carefully, not least of all because the asthma was as a result of a dairy allergy and some stomach issues, a gluten one. I don’t drink much, still bloat a lot and have an official diagnosis of IBS and dysmotility. I take Symprove (probiotic drink) every morning and that has helped my bloating HUGELY and I am on prescription medication for the dysmotlity (vomiting and nausea).
I am unique!! We all are with IBS. That’s the bastard of the condition, so please don’t use this post to measure your symptoms up against mine because sadly, that isn’t really how IBS works.
I find IBS to be incredibly isolating and hate the taboo that surrounds it and I hope that this blog post will serve to remind you, more than anything, that you are SO not on your own with this shit. Literally.
One in five of us suffer. It’s as close to normal as looking seven months pregnant despite not having had sex in a year and a half can be.
I’ve gotta make it clear though that I am NOT a doctor or nutritionist. I have no qualifications whatsoever and learned what I do know through my own experience. If you have any health concerns at all, I implore you to please visit a doctor!
Alrighty then. Disclaimers out the way, here’s my IBS ASK-ME-ANYTHING:
How long did it take you to get diagnosed?
Ah fuck, tricky question because my symptoms came in stages and got progressively worse and worse. It took a couple of years to get the diagnosis from a doctor but that’s slightly on me because I went and got some allergy tests done with a nutritionist and didn’t think to ask her WHY I was suddenly experiencing so many stomach problems.
Truthfully I don’t think an “official diagnosis” is such a big deal with IBS because it really is such an umbrella term for stomach problems. When the doctor did tell me I had it, I was like…er…. ok??? So how do we treat it? And then he said that you sort of can’t and I realised it was just a vague as fuck term and no one really knew anything.
1/5 people are thought to have IBS so I guess I just wasn’t that surprised.
How did they diagnose you? I have so many digestive problems but no diagnosis!
You can push for a diagnosis but you can also pretty much be sure that if you are struggling with digestive issues then you probably have IBS in some capacity. It’s an umbrella term remember.
I would still advise you to stay on your doctor’s case though because you’ll want to rule out that you haven’t got anything more sinister going on.
What support did your GP provide? Did you get any referrals?
As much as I ADORE the NHS and as grateful as I am to have it available to me in this country, my NHS GP was not great with my IBS.
The first time I went to visit my GP I told her that I thought I had a dairy allergy (I kept having asthma attacks, had a constantly blocked nose and headache as well as skin irritations, I’d also had a continually upset tummy). I asked for an allergy test but was told that they would only do that if it was a nut allergy. I went and found a nutritionist who would do this test privately and found out I had a dairy allergy, a gluten intolerance as well as, ironically, peanuts.
I felt a lot better, cutting out those foods, googling a lot of stuff, trying to treat myself, but about 18 months later I had cramps, bloating and pain. My doctor told me it was IBS and googled the Low FODMAP diet (we’ll talk more about it) and that was the end of the appointment.
Another 18 months later I was vomiting and in a really bad way with it all, I called my GP and was told to wait 7 weeks for an appointment. I cried. She didn’t budge. Two weeks later though I was really ill so booked an emergency appointment and asked to be referred to a gastroenterologist. I said I would do it privately, which I am incredibly fortunate to have been able to do, because I was so stressed and ill and tired of it all by then. Since then I’ve been seeing that consultant privately.
How do you define IBS from other possible stomach/bowel problems?
You have to go the doctor and you have to push them on it. I took my IBS diagnosis when I got it after no testing and that was fine. But when my symptoms became more concerning (the vomiting) that I realised I needed more tests.
If you have been diagnosed with IBS and you are managing your diet and avoiding triggers and taking probiotics and it’s all helping, then that’s probably what you are dealing with.
If you have been diagnosed with IBS and you are doing everything “right” but still experiencing symptoms then please go back to a doctor and ask for the necessary tests to be done. They will probably take a poo sample, maybe some bloods or organise a colonoscopy (camera up the bum), endoscopy (camera down the throat) or ultrasound.
Can you tell me more about Dysmotility?
So I have dysmotlity, a condition which I think it probably falls under the IBS umbrella term, or perhaps it’s something that I have as well as IBS – I’m not entirely sure. I still don’t know an awful lot about it (which isn’t very helpful for either of us).
So last year I was starting to feel really nauseous and basically became unable to keep food down. Every tome I drank I would throw up violently the next day (I subsequently gave up drinking for 9 months), my doctor (the stomach consultant) did SO many tests, bloods, ultrasounds, endoscopies, and nothing, they all came back fine. I was having these symptoms at the same time as the more traditional IBS ones, but had that side of things more under control with my diet and stuff.
Anyway in January I went out for a spicy meal and proceeded to spend the next three days sort of vomiting, sort of choking on whatever was in my stomach (SEXY!) and my doctor worked it out. Dysmotility is a problem with the sensors in your stomach/intestine/bowel. I have anti-acids now and anti-sickness pills and am mostly treated with a low dosage of antidepressants which seems to be working pretty well. I am still not fully back to normal but am much better.
How do you reduce bloating?
Long term: cut out triggering foods permanently (or as much as I can). So as well as gluten and dairy I avoid grapes, leafy/gassy veg, an excess of alcohol or too much sugar. I drink a lot of water, take Symprove every morning which helps a lot. I also exercise a lot more now and really think that has helped.
Short term: I keep either senocalm or buscapan in my bag at all time to take in case I bloat, I do a lot of squats in bathroom cubicles to try to release trapped gas and try to keep moving as much as I can. Failing that I lie down on the sofa and pretend I’m preggers.
What do you do when you’re bloated?
This depends on the time of day – if first thing in the morning – FUCK, stretchy jeans, baggy t-shirt and a positive as fuck mental attitude. If it’s the evening I’ll whack on my PJs and count the seconds to bed time so that I can hopefully fart it all away in my sleep.
How do you hide the bloat if you are off out somewhere nice? I always flare up!
Hiding the bloat is something that I am practically a Jedi master in at this point. I have a big thing on this planned but for now my advice would be:
Go for a lower cut neckline and something that comes in under the bust (higher than the waist, if poss!) – this way you will show off your figure without focussing on the bloat. Praise be for floaty blouses and dresses being in right now, BUY THEM ALL. I live in a low cut floaty blouse, drawn in under the boobs with a pair of skinny jeans.
Jeans!! Find ones with a stretchy waistband – Levi’s have been ood to me. Mini skirts look great with jumpers, untucked, so that the skirt can be undone, with dark tights and boots.
It is imperative that you remember though that it is nothing to be ashamed of and it one hundred percent looks worse in your own head.
How do you cope with the insecurity of the condition?
I think it takes time but I think the most important thing for you to remember is that if you broke your arm or got the flu, you would not have any extra emotion attached to the condition.
I think people think it’s “gross” and assume it’s all about having the shits all the time, but that’s actually not it at all. And even if it was… it’s an illness?! So what! Apart from anything, I have sooo many friends that shamefacedly tell me they have shit themselves, and they don’t even have the excuse that I have (still never done it, btw)
IBS is out of my control, it’s not my fault and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I remind myself of this all the time.
Been training for my 1st half marathon, have runner runs remedies or any thoughts?
OH EXCELLENT QUESTION!! I ran my first marathon back in May and am currently training for my second one and IBS ha been one of my biggest challenges.
I have had to think a lot about my diet – yes I need energy but I know that sugar in excess will just make me shit myself and cause me a lot of pain. So i’ve learned to eat a big meal the night before I run (carby! Brown rice pasta is great!), and, if it’s a long one, eat a tried and tested breakfast two hours before I go (muesli with berries and coconut yoghurt). If it’s a really long run I take snacks with me (Nakd bars, jelly babies) and I keep really hydrated and remind myself that running is great cos no one’s around to hear me fart. I plot my routes knowing that there are loos available to me, too.
I also know that running is one of the best things for my stomach – although it invariably causes problems (all that jiggling) it has helped my symptoms so much so I take it one day at a time and just keep trying.
Are there foods that trigger you?
Yes – sometimes I get a surprise but usually they are once found on the FODMAP list. Leafy veg, too much fruit (honestly grapes fucking kill me), red meat, sugar. All the fun stuff really.
Can bloating be your only symptom?
No, bloating is not the only symptom – gas, needing the loo more than usual, having loose stalls, not being able to go to the loo, pain and cramps are all symptoms too – if you’re worried please go to your doctor.
Do you get all of the symptoms or is it a mixture of struggling to poo and going lots? I feel like a Yo-Yo!
I get a combination. Sometimes I am painfully constipated (if you see me on a huge Instagram liking spree it’s cos I’m sitting on the loo trying to poo probs), but other times I only just make it to the bathroom on time.
I think there is such a misconception with IBS that it’s basically just constant diarrhoea and that’s jut not true. It is an umbrella term for all sorts of symptoms, so yeh, I think the thing to do is try to work out (if you can) what causes what.
Flying makes me constipated, fyi.
Thoughts on the Low Fodmap diet?
OK, yes, I did do it, strictly, a few years ago and it helped undoubtedly. Having said that, it is not an easy thing to do at all and completely understand people’s apprehension towards it, it is a BIG undertaking.
The Low FODMAP diet basically works out what foods are most likely to trigger people and for that, it’s brilliant. The idea is, you cut everything out and then one by one add things back in and see how you react. I did it (-ish), and it was good.
The only thing I don’t like about it is I was given a printed off list by my doctor of foods that I apparently could no longer eat and it was overwhelming as hell. It was thanks to lists like this that I did, for a while, experience some disordered eating patterns with food since it all became something I had to concentrate on SO much.
They’re guidelines, not rules and the whole thing has to be gone about in your own way, I think.
Does doing Keto/low carb diets help? I’ve tried intermittent fasting but other “fixes” needed!!
I’ve never tried the Keto diet but to be honest, that shit ain’t for me. In fact I often feel safer with carbs than I do with a lot of other foods. As long as there is no gluten, brown rice pasta/crackers/potatoes are often what makes me feel safest.
I think it’s best to listen to your body and experiment with a range of things but I’m not personally about that life.
I’d refer to my previous point about the FODMAP diet here too, IBS can damage your relationship with food and if you’re not careful you can find yourself picking up and putting down so many diets it can add stress to an already quite stressful life.
ALSO RED MEAT MAKES ME FART A LOT SOOOOOOO…..
Best thing to settle your tummy after eating something that flares up?
I take Senocalm and Zantac – Senocalm is a medication specifically for IBS pain and Zantac is an anti acid which I find really helps. I also carry Imodium with me just in case. I know I bang on it about it but I drink a lot of water, spend a lot of time squatting to try and alleviate gas pains and try to keep moving. I also drink ginger and lemon tea sometimes, and suck mints… although I’m not sure about that.
Does IBS ever go away?
Eeek no, I don’t think it does. It’s a chronic condition BUT the only good news I can give you is that when I am on top of shit and living properly and healthily and stuff I feel peachy. Almost like I don’t have IBS at all, so that’s nice.
What do you do if you think it might be possible that you have IBS?
If you think it is possible that you have IBS, honestly go to the doctor, tell them that’s what you think and have a conversation. Annoyingly if you think you have it, your probably do, but you defo need to talk to a doctor, mostly just to rule out anything worse.
IBS symptoms are similar to those of a LOT of illnesses, from cancers to Crohn’s, to poly-cystic ovaries. Soz about putting the fear of death into you but that is why this stuff really is important and why we shouldn’t diagnose ourselves or let our doctor’s fob us off!
Best advice for someone recently diagnosed?
Fuck. OK. Sorry for you.
But: talk about it. That takes the shame out of it. Try not to get too stressed as that makes it worse. Dedicate a bit more time to getting to know your body and what it wants and what it needs and hates and loves. You’re going to need to get really good at listening to your body. Move a lot.
How do you cope with family and friends doubting the condition?
The thing with IBS is that, unless you have it, you can’t possibly know, so trying to make friends and family understand can be really hard.
Explain it to them properly, not just your symptoms but your feelings about it too.
Also remember that ultimately it is not their problem, it is yours. I don’t say that to be mean, I say it because it is a condition that you are going to have to live with for the rest of your life, so it is you that must make your peace with it. Although support is really important, it is not worth adding to your existing stress by constantly trying to prove it to other people.
Know when to put your foot down too, about things you can’t eat or do and most importantly remember not to feel guilty; whilst your new way of life might be a bit inconvenient to them, it is YOUR life and you have to do what is best for you.
In time, they will begin to understand it.
How do you cope with medical professionals not listening?
This could be a blog post in it’s own right, oh my god, the medical profession do not take IBS seriously enough at all and they don’t take symptoms presented by young women seriously enough either (yes, I said it).
For a long time doctors would fob me off and dismiss me, insinuating that a lot of what was happening was all in my head and caused by anxiety.
CAN I ASK YOU SOMETHING DOCTOR? IF EVERYTHING YOU ATE MADE YOU SICK, DO YOU THINK PERHAPS YOU MIGHT BE FEELING A LITTLE ANXIOUS???
Put your foot down, know your worth. You know your body better than anyone else and you know what you deserve. Try not to get too emotional, even though FUCK it is frustrating. Write down everything you want to say before you go in and take the paper with you. Stay strong.
How do you cope being on holiday? I just find it embarrassing and uncomfortable.
Fuck travelling with IBS is a pain in the arse (often literally). I still get anxious about going abroad, particularly where the food is concerned. It is doable though, it just takes a bit of planning:
- research restaurants before you go
- if you have allergies learn how to explain them in the native language or write it down
- take medication and supplements
- take your own “safe” snacks (this is why my suitcase is always so heavy)
- establish where the bathrooms are
- take clothes that you are comfortable in
- try your best not to let it get to you. I know it does and that it’s hard but it would be SO unfair that your holiday might be ruined by your IBS. The bloating looks and feels worse to you and if you feel okay, relaxing will be the best thing for you.
- Also remember to tell who you are with
- AND DRINK EVEN MORE WATER THAN NORMAL
How do you cope when travelling or being away from home (with unknown loo locations!)
So I covered the travelling stuff but truth be told I still find being away from home, even if just to stay with friends, quite hard. I mostly get self conscious about my diet cos I am so annoyingly hard to feed, but even just sharing loos and stuff can be awkward.
What I am constantly reminding myself is that I wouldn’t feel bad if I had my leg in a cast, so why would I for having a stomach condition? My friends love me and we make it work.
Take your own snacks though, always, even just for peace of mind, and so when your mate says FUCK I HAVE COOKED SOMETHING YOU CAN’T EAT you can say “don’t worry, I’m sorted” and they won’t die of shame.
Tips for flights and long drives?
Right, road trips: take food you know you won’t react to and schedule a lot of loo trips if you need them.
Flying: this is one of my biggest triggers – probably to do with the air pressure or something. I get off planes every time in so much pain and very bloated. I take Senocalm, drink lots of water, and hide in the loo to fart a bit too.
Annoyingly it’s just one of those things, but I always figure that it’s worth it cos you’re probs going somewhere fun!
Does being on your period make it worse?
I don’t know if there is science to back this up, but for me I would say 100% DEFINITELY.
To be fair though, this can’t be a huge surprise, what with both things happening in a similar region of your body and all that! I’m not sure what you do about it… hot water bottle, maybe? I remember talking to a friend at school about how doing a poo can really hurt when you are on your period. So yeh. There’s the proof we need.
How do you find/stop it affecting your sex life?
IBS will affect your sex life. Which is probs not the answer that you wanted, but it’s the truth. For ages and ages I was really self conscious about the bloat and at the beginning when I was seemingly relentlessly swollen, intimate was the last thing I wanted to be.
The thing that I realise now is that I am lucky enough to be with a man that loves me regardless (and if you’re with one that doesn’t, fucking ditch his ass), although I FELT like a sack of shit, he never seemed to mind. Finding things that make YOU feel sexy that cover your tummy can be great (hey Ann Summers, what’s good girl??), switching things up to make you more comfortable is important too.
If you know you flare up worse at night, then see what you can rustle up in the mornings.
The key to all of it is conversation – talk to your sex buddy, learn what’s up and I promise it will get easier. Also. He’s not gonna turn down sex just because you’re rocking a bit of a pot belly, of this I am 100% certain.
How do you broach the subject with your new fella?!
To be fair babe, 1/5 people suffer with IBS so he can’t be THAT surprised when you tell him. Haha, seriously though, if he’s got a prob with your irritating bowels then ditch him anyway!! Tell him honestly: I have IBS and THIS is how it effects me (avoids any nasty surprises). Probably tell him at supper rather than in bed though. Either way, you’ll make it work.
As for being self conscious about the bloat? I’m not sure that blokes even notice this stuff particularly. Also remember that men are designed to still love us when we are pregnant so a little bit of apres-ice cream bloat should not be a problem.
Are you gluten free because of IBS or because of an intolerance?
I have an intolerance but I guess I got that because of IBS… I don’t even know actually!!
What does Symprove taste like? Is it easy to drink?
Despite the fact I take it every morning I could not tell you what it tastes like. It’s not DELICIOUS. But it’s not horrible either!! It’s nice! I know some people who really don’t like it but for me it’s easy breezy, I have a quick shot in the morning, slips right down, don’t even notice it anymore!
How long to notice Symprove benefits? I haven’t had any yet!
I noticed Symprove’s benefits within about a month but it wasn’t until I came off it that I realised how much it was really helping me. You don’t know a good thing ’til it’s gone and all that.
I’m so sorry if it’s not working for you. I suppose it mustn’t work for everyone but perhaps it’s worth chatting with your doctor just to see if they can perhaps suggest an alternative. Have you tried Kefir? Apparently that’s pretty good (although rather gross).
Please could you put a cheaper alternative to Symprove? Looking for affordable help!
Of course. Although I love Symproe it really is SO expensive. Again I am not qualified in anything but here are some alternatives that I’ve heard good things about that you might want to try:
- probiotic pills, try BioKult as that’s really highlight recommended.
- Kefir, I think it tastes like butt cheeky but my mum SWEARS by it
- Apple Cider Vinegar is really popular? Have a google but I know a lot of people that have a shot in the morning and love it.
Have you ever had to push to the front go the queue and do people understand?
I think I probably have, and I think they probably did. IBS is something you cannot control, we gotta remove shame from this conversation. If you gotta barge to the front of the queue, DO IT. People will understand. And if they don’t? Fuck ’em – you’ll never see them again anyway!
What is the biggest struggle that IBS causes you that an outsider wouldn’t guess??
The constant worry, I guess. When you struggle with IBS or any stomach condition, to be fair, food can become really scary and that is something I don’t think you can fully appreciate until you have suffered with something of the same nature.
I didn’t think I could ever be scared of good but when you stop being able to trust it and your body, there is a generalised feeling ofancirty that surrounds eating that I never could have seen coming.
So there ya have it!! 4000 words of poo chat. Aren’t you the lucky bunch.
If you made it this far, you must be really struggling with your bowels and i’m sorry for you. If this has been helpful, or you would like me to talk more about one thing in particular please do let me know.
Also, the question from the person who’s just been diagnosed – my advice wasn’t very good. If you’ve got anything better, please leave it in the comments so that anyone in that position can get the help they need!
Cheers lovelies – happy trumping xxx