Living with IBS

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2016. | Last updated: January 2023

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes significant gastrointestinal symptoms that are painful, can be difficult to treat, and create a substantial negative effect on the patient’s quality of life. People suffering with IBS often miss work or leisure activities due to the severity and frequency of their symptoms, and they are often frustrated with the lack of understanding or compassion from family, friends, and even some health professionals.

Dealing with the Symptoms

Recently the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) conducted a survey of people diagnosed with IBS. They found that many sufferers (71%) experience multiple episodes a week, with nearly half (47%) of respondents reporting daily episodes of IBS symptoms. Dealing with the symptoms of IBS is a daily challenge, and the majority of respondents categorized their symptoms as moderate or severe. The most bothersome symptoms for patients with IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) were abdominal pain or discomfort and sudden urges to have bowel movements. For patients with IBS with constipation (IBS-C), the most bothersome symptoms were reported as abdominal pain, straining, infrequent stools, and bloating.1

Another survey conducted by IFFGD in cooperation with the University of North Carolina (UNC) Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders found the most dominating symptom to IBS sufferers is pain, with 78% reporting having continuous or frequently recurring abdominal pain in the last six months. In addition, more than 40% of people with IBS feel a loss of control over their lives due to the symptoms from IBS.2

Impact of Lifestyle

Many people with IBS report that their symptoms seriously impact their daily life, causing frequent absences from work and school. They also report arriving late to work, or leaving early, due to their disease. Some people with IBS have had to move their business into their home.1

More than absenteeism from work or school, IBS symptoms cause sufferers to miss their leisure activities, impacting their time with family and friends. In the UNC-IFFGD survey, respondents indicated restricting their activities due to their health for 20% of the year.2

Seeking Relief

Results from the IFFGD survey also show that people with IBS are frequent users of the health care system. Many responders (43%) admit suffering five or more years with symptoms before a diagnosis was made, and even after diagnosis, both men and women with IBS report multiple visits to their health care providers as they seek relief from their symptoms.1

Respondents reported using 281 different treatments, including prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and herbal and dietary supplements. The majority of people with IBS reported dissatisfaction with their current drugs and remedies due to lack of effectiveness or their symptoms not being relieved. In one survey, only 8% of respondents were very satisfied with their treatment for IBS. In addition, those taking prescription drugs were also distressed by the side effects of the medications, which almost half reported as severe or moderate. These findings indicate the need for more effective treatment options for IBS.1,2

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