A woman shouts at a doctor in a trance.

An Open Letter to Medical Professionals: Listen to Our Complaints

Dear Medical Professionals,

Please listen when we report our symptoms.

I want to preface this by saying that this certainly does not apply to everyone in the medical field, but it is prevalent enough it should be addressed. The dismissal of symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome needs to stop. It is time for all doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners to take these complaints seriously.

Dismissal delays IBS diagnosis and treatment

Chances are you have discussed your symptoms with at least one doctor, nurse, or nurse practitioner that has downplayed, dismissed, or ignored your concerns. Your diagnosis may have been delayed because of the dismissal. Treatment may have been delayed because your complaints were not heard. This unnecessary frustration can be avoided if all medical professionals listen to patients reporting IBS symptoms and take action to determine the cause of those symptoms.

In my personal experience, some of the dismissive doctors write off these complaints as a mere tummy ache that will subside over time. Since IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, it takes time to get a diagnosis in order to start a treatment plan to relieve symptoms. The sooner a doctor begins eliminating possible causes, the sooner a patient can get a diagnosis and, hopefully, some relief.

Irritable bowel syndrome is not a minor inconvenience. It is not something that will go away. It is a lifelong illness that is often disruptive to daily life. Quality of life is diminished for many IBS patients.

IBS affects daily life

While it is frustrating when others do not understand IBS, it is particularly frustrating when a doctor dismisses your symptoms. Yes, we know irritable bowel syndrome is not deadly. It is, however, an illness that can greatly affect daily life and cause quite a bit of pain. Diminished quality of life and chronic pain should be taken more seriously, especially by a doctor. IBS will not kill you, but it can cause you to suffer from chronic pain and disrupt your ability to work, attend school, or travel. Are those not enough reasons to take complaints seriously?

Medical professionals know that irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition. Are some dismissive of symptoms because they do not consider it a serious illness? Are they dismissive because they do not understand the impact of the symptoms? I think it is a combination of both.

IBS is not just a bout of diarrhea or constipation. Irritable bowel syndrome is painful. It is severe diarrhea that can lead to dehydration and hospitalization. It is severe constipation that can lead to impaction, obstruction, and hospitalization. Diarrhea and constipation associated with irritable bowel syndrome recurs repeatedly for a lifetime, and the pattern repeats itself in varying degrees of seriousness throughout a person’s entire life.

An IBS diagnosis is important

Treatment is not always effective, but having a diagnosis can be comforting. It allows patients to try the different treatment options in pursuit of relief. Mental health can greatly affect physical health, and finding support from people who also have or understand irritable bowel syndrome can improve mental health. A diagnosis is important, and it should not be hindered by a dismissive attitude.

Again, I am not saying all medical professionals are dismissive. I have had many doctors who listened to my concerns and tried to help resolve or relieve my symptoms. I have also had doctors who were uninterested in hearing my complaints about anything related to IBS. Encountering a dismissive doctor when I first reported symptoms may have deterred me from further pursuing a diagnosis. It is unfortunate that this happens, and it is time for complaints of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms to be taken seriously and addressed.

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