Support from Friends and Family

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

While living with a chronic condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may cause a patient to feel isolated at times, it is also considered a “family disease.” Dealing with the ongoing and fluctuating symptoms of IBS can be frustrating and disheartening for the patient, and it also impacts those around them, including spouses, family members, friends, and business associates.

It can be helpful for the one suffering to have the support and understanding from family and friends. In addition, since stress can act as a trigger for IBS symptoms, it is important to keep relationships healthy and reduce the stress from those relationships whenever possible. The effect of relationships on IBS can be either positive or negative. Studies have shown a correlation between relationship support and lower symptom severity, which can be interpreted in two ways. Naturally, the support of others may be beneficial to the patient and lead to a decrease in symptom severity. However, a patient with less severe symptoms may bring out less anxiety or distress from others, which could gain them greater support and depth of connection.1

Gaining Understanding

The burden of explaining a condition like IBS primarily falls on the patient. However, the symptoms can be uncomfortable and difficult to talk about with others. It may be helpful to have partners or close family members at doctor appointments, where they can ask questions and hear the advice of health care professionals.1 Additionally, patients can share websites like this one with their loved ones.

Asking for Support

When discussing emotional support needs, it is helpful to be as specific as possible on what support is needed.2 Giving examples and role-playing can be helpful.

Reducing Stress from Relationships

Identifying and discussing areas of conflict can help reduce distress in relationships. Research shows that keeping lines of communication open and continuing to have dialogue on issues results in less personal stress.2 In addition, studies have shown a distinct benefit on IBS symptoms to the coping strategies learned through therapy, which can be for couples or for the family unit.1

What Friends and Family Can Do

As a family member or friend of someone with IBS, it is important to distinguish between the condition and the patient. For example, while being concerned about the person with IBS is incredibly valuable, the illness should not be the primary focus of the relationship.2
Help remind the person with IBS of their strengths, pointing out where they are doing a good job in managing their symptoms. Focusing on the strengths, rather than areas of deficiency, is empowering and uplifting.2

Flexibility is an important trait when dealing with IBS. Family and friends who are flexible and understand that plans may need to change due to a flare of IBS symptoms will help ease the stress of the patient.2

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