Work and IBS
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2016. | Last updated: January 2023
Because symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including diarrhea, constipation, pain, and bloating, affect a person’s daily activities, they can affect a person’s work life as well. A recent survey by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) of nearly 2,000 Americans with IBS found that on average, IBS sufferers restrict their daily activities more than 73 days in a calendar year due to their health problems. The impact of restricted activity is greater for those with IBS with predominant diarrhea (IBS-D), who report 84 days a year that are affected, than those with IBS with constipation (IBS-C), who report 59 restricted days a year.1
The survey also found that IBS directly impacts employment. Thirteen percent of survey respondents admitted being jobless due to their health situation. This percent was higher when looking at the severity of symptoms: 30% of those with severe IBS are unemployed due to their symptoms compared to 5% with mild symptoms.1
Another survey by the IFFGD asked people with IBS how many days they missed work in the past three months. More than one-quarter (26%) reported missing work or school due to their IBS symptoms. Of those who reported missing work, nearly 1 in 13 reported daily episodes, not being able to work, or having to move their business into their home.2
Men with IBS reported more frequent work absences than women with IBS, and among those citing work absences, they averaged almost eight missed days in a three-month period. In addition, one-quarter of respondents reported that they had to arrive late or leave early from work due to their disease. Ten percent of those who reported arriving late or leaving early noted more than 30 such incidents in a three-month period. IBS symptoms serious impact a person’s ability to work and their time on the job.2
Managing Stress at Work
Most people with IBS are employed and find ways to manage their symptoms and keep up with their work. Stress can be a trigger for IBS flare-ups, and concern over your job can create more stress. Maintaining your health through regular exercise, diet and stress-relieving activities such as meditation can help you to manage your IBS symptoms. In addition, the following strategies can help a person with IBS reduce their stress at work:
- Talk to your manager about your condition. Being upfront about your IBS and the need for flexibility can help reduce your stress and will give your supervisor a better understanding of what is going on. With approximately 1 in 6 Americans having IBS, you are not alone.3
- As much as possible, avoid long meetings and travel. There may be alternatives to travel, leveraging technology to present remotely, for example. If travel or long meetings do come up, plan ahead how you can handle the situation.
- Have medication on hand. Have a remedy kit at your office with any medications or a change of clothes available if your symptoms flare up.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid foods and beverages that you know trigger your IBS symptoms.