Same Illness, Different Triggers

Many doctors prescribe medication without considering the specific differences among patients that would call for more individualized treatment plans. I have lived with irritable bowel syndrome for many years, I’ve also talked with and got to know many other IBS sufferers throughout that time, and one of the things I’ve learned is that we all suffer from similar symptoms which are caused by countless different triggers. At first, this was surprising to me because I thought diseases and illnesses are supposed to affect people the same way. Yet in reality, we all may suffer from a similar problem, but our genetic makeup and environment causes us to react differently to different things – that’s what makes us unique as individuals.

Different triggers for different folks

I know some IBS sufferers who can drink alcohol more occasionally than others because alcohol doesn’t affect them as bad. Alcohol is known to be a gut-irritant which kind of amazes me that it doesn’t affect everyone the same. Nonetheless, some IBS sufferers can have it more often than others.

I also know IBS sufferers who cannot eat any kind of meat whatsoever because it triggers their symptoms instantly, while I know others who can eat meat just fine. This is another distinction that is interesting to me because I never realized that foods some of us consider a staple in our meals (meat, for example), are a huge NO-NO for others. Thus, highlighting another difference in how we react to the same things.

Here’s one last anecdote: 2 IBS sufferers can drink the same coffee, but one might have a different and more negative reaction to it than the other. The one with the negative reaction would possibly have to use the toilet immediately after having a few sips, while the other one was able to get through the whole coffee and still be fine for another hour afterwards. Could it have been the caffeine, the milk, or maybe the sugar that was used that could have instantly triggered a negative symptom for the IBS sufferer? And if that’s the case, then why didn’t it suddenly trigger the symptoms of the other IBS sufferer who clearly wasn’t so easily affected? The answer lies within our genetic makeup and possibly our microbiome, which is similar, but yet so different at the same time. That is why I believe we, IBS sufferers, need to understand that what may work for others, may not necessarily work for us, and vice versa.

Customized IBS treatment plans

One thing for sure that us IBS sufferers have in common is that we all certainly have an oversensitive gut, no matter what our triggers are. Which is probably why doctors will try to apply a one-size-fits-all treatment on patients. Unfortunately, that’s only addressing the symptom, not the cause. This is why generalized treatment doesn’t always work for every single individual. Therefore, I believe IBS patients should be provided with treatment plans according to what works best for the individual. Yes, this may take longer to develop, involve many tests, and follow-up appointments (not to mention lots of health insurance money), but the result would be so much more worth it (in my opinion). So, for instance, if I can tolerate meat, but another IBS sufferer cannot, then it would make more sense to put us on two different diet plans. In other words, IBS sufferers would possibly benefit more from specialized treatment plans that cater to our specific diet and nutritional needs – not just being prescribed Imodium for our diarrhea and telling us to “have a nice day!”

I truly believe medical experts (gastroenterologists, nutritionists, and even psychologists) should start developing customized IBS treatment plans for their patients to see if there is a difference in not only how the patient responds, but also in getting to know what triggers the patient as well. If doctors teamed up to develop these personalized treatment plans, it may start revolutionizing the patient-doctor relationship, which is a change I think needs to happen for a better-quality healthcare system. It would certainly restore my faith that doctors are truly concerned with helping patients.

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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.

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