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Yelling woman in the middle is spotlit while doctors holding clipboards, computers, and hiding behind doors are avoiding or dismissing her.

The Medical Community and IBS

When I first started having severe symptoms that were eventually explained by a diagnosis of IBS, I was half-way through college. I remember visiting the campus medical office to discuss my intestinal issues. I noticed very quickly that the nurses and doctors I spoke with didn’t seem entirely interested in what I had to say or even convinced I had a real problem.

I remember many of them telling me to work on my stress levels or eat healthier. They balked when I mentioned I thought the substandard campus food was a contributing factor to my intestinal issues (which it definitely was). And while I was definitely stressed, which no doubt compounded the problem, stress was not the root cause of the issue. Even when my stress levels went down significantly after that particularly hectic semester, my IBS symptoms—while definitely improved–didn’t entirely go away.

Its “just” IBS

My symptoms got so bad that I lost nearly 20 pounds in a single semester. I wound up taking the next semester off as a medical leave of absence and returning home to convalesce. I still didn’t have a formal diagnosis, so I also worked toward that. To that end, I visited a well-reputed gastroenterologist, who subjected me to a slate of tests, including a barium swallow and a colonoscopy. Neither test revealed anything remarkable or unusual, so I was told I “just” had IBS. The GI doctor, who was originally convinced I had IBD due to the severity of my symptoms, treated me differently after my diagnosis. His tone was dismissive and even somewhat hostile, as though the IBS were my own fault and I was exaggerating the problem. When I asked him how to treat the IBS, he told me there was no treatment. So he sent me on my way to figure things out all by myself. The only good that came out of the visit and diagnosis, was that I was at least able to convince him to write me a letter to entitle me to a dorm suite with a private bathroom and a medical single room, as well as a reduced meal plan so I could have better control of my diet.

Doctors were dismissive

For the next several years, doctors continued to treat me dismissively, saying I just needed to eat better or not be so anxious. In my early twenties, I finally had surgery that found widespread endometriosis, much of it on and strangling parts of my intestines. The removal of the disease relieved my symptoms considerably–though again, they didn’t completely go away. I realized my IBS also had to do with diet as well, and a propensity of my GI to react to triggers like certain foods or stress in ways those without IBS do not react. Over time I slowly but surely was better able to tease out what foods harmed me and what foods were beneficial (or at least neutral).

Advocate for myself

As I became older and more versed in IBS, I was able to get a much better handle on managing it. Not only that, but I was able to better advocate for myself when dealing with medical professionals. I was more confident in asserting my diagnosis and its legitimacy and my health and diet needs as related to it.

Unfortunately, though, what that has also meant, is I know I have to take some of what doctors say to me or how they treat me with a grain of salt, as I know my body better than they do. IBS is more prevalent in women as well, and there is a huge disparity in how medical professionals treat women as compared to men, with a pattern of invalidation of women’s health issues.1 I keep that in mind as well when discussing any health issue with a medical professional.

Have you had positive or negative experiences with medical professionals in regards to your diagnosis and treatment of IBS? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • gutsalmighty
    7 months ago

    I’m feeling utterly miserable – I’ve had a few good days, the first for months, and now I’m back to where I started. Bloated, headache , Rumbling guts, shivers, dry mouth. I decided to go back on the Fodmap diet a few days ago in desperation. It seemed to work for a few days- now I don’t feel confident to eat again. Don’t know what on earth to do – my GP practice isn’t interested nor is my consultant for post polio syndrome – he suggested peppermint tea.. !!!
    I agree entirely with the above regarding the disinterest of the medical profession. It’s staggering. I’m already dealing with a difficult neurological condition PPS – but somehow neither of these conditions, PPS or IBS stimulate any concern or interest.

  • ExplodingGuts
    7 months ago

    We could be twin souls except for the endometriosis. No, indeed, the medical establishment with one exception has not been helpful or esp interested in a condition of ongoing diarrhea explosions prompted by any kind exercise and immune to any and all dietary changes. GI’s assorted pills and sand concoctions did nothing but deplete the bank account. The respirologist/pulmonologist, however, made the connection btwn asthma and acid reflux so I’ve become better able to manage both. My Bowen healer says the vast majority of her clients have GI issues – both men and women. She had it herself and healed herself with FODMAP (changes nothing for me) and a tbsp of apple cider vinegar in a cup of water an hour before eating (this does). With much tiresome introspection I have discovered a long established stress response involving stomach and lungs probably learned from high-stress, super-fragile parent. I have been working on changing this consciously with some success. I’ve also been traying the Water Cure, guzzling a gallon of H20 daily at intervals before 8 p.m. This seemed to be working quite well until high-stress incident recently so no complacency yet by any means. I find it appalling and unforgivable considering the amount of taxes we pay in Canada to be treated so very shabbily by the medical establishment. They are not only unhelpful but often downright insulting. Despite a preponderance of applicants to every medical school in the land, all the wrong people are selected today, in my view. Identity now plays a bigger role than actual achievement and we pay a very high price for it. I expect it to continue until we regain control of our publicly-funded universities. The only ray of light for me has been to have a GP willing to submit referrals to the very senior experts I find for myself. Those guys did all they can for me, but they proved less helpful than my Bowen massage therapist. I’m not a fan of ‘alternative’ or ‘natural’ medicine but I must give credit where it’s due.

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