The True Cost of an IBS Diagnosis
Some illnesses have a logical path to a cure, which also comes with a known cost. For example, when you have the common cold, you know you’re going to have to spend anywhere from $20- $60, depending on the severity of your cold. You spend some money at the drug store; you might go to the doctor and have to buy a prescription, and it will cost you your sanity and well being for three to seven days on average. It sets you back financially a bit, and it’s really annoying for a week, but as soon as you get better, that cold is in the rearview mirror. When you have a chronic illness like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the cost never really goes away; kind of like college loans! The cost of IBS not only puts a huge dent in our wallets, it also puts a kink in our physical and mental health, well-being, lifestyle, careers, and relationships.
1. The monetary cost of IBS. Doctor visit after doctor visit, suggestion after suggestion, and blood test after blood test, having IBS is not cheap. Between the medical expenses and purchasing what the doctors have told me to try, I have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars in the past five years on attempting to alleviate my IBS symptoms. Since there is not one single pill to cure IBS, you can imagine that there are tons of different things on the market that could potentially help with your symptoms. My first appointment started with my doctor telling me to purchase aloe Vera juice ($9), 40 billion strain probiotics ($55), L-Glutamine ($12), marshmallow root ($12) and evening prim rose oil ($12) vitamins, and digestive enzymes ($30). Add that to a $30 co-pay and you’re looking at $160, for a treatment plan that didn’t even work for me. Then you see another doctor and they tell you to try something different, so you go and buy that. You read an article about a new vitamin to try, so you also buy that. You purchase a $35 e-book because you’re desperate, and they promise to have all the answers, but it’s nothing more than what you could have found on Google. You try getting a massage every month for relaxation ($70), or you try acupuncture because you’ve heard it will cure your IBS symptoms ($90). You get another doctor’s opinion ($30), and they prescribe you an IBS prescription drug ($60) that also doesn’t work. You buy new clothes because you’re so bloated that you can’t sit down comfortably in your current wardrobe ($300). You have a colonoscopy and endoscopy at the age of 25 to rule out other illnesses (hundreds of dollars). If all of these purchases ended in a cure, it would sounds like a MasterCard commercial, ending in priceless. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. While all of these purchases can be costly and frustrating, but believe it or not, there’s an even larger cost of having IBS.
2. The health and well-being cost of IBS. IBS costs you your health. There’s no way to spin it. The terrible sharp stomach pains, the pain of constipation, the pain of diarrhea and dehydration, the pain of your pants button digging into your skin after you eat lunch. There’s also the fatigue that you feel on a day-to-day basis that makes you feel completely worthless at times. IBS costs you not only your physical health, but also your mental health. The phenomenon of throwing spaghetti onto the wall hoping something sticks isn’t the best on the psyche, particularly when regarding your health, and especially when none of that spaghetti sticks. Oh yeah, and you can’t even eat that spaghetti because the noodles aren’t gluten free. How depressing, right? IBS can cause anxiety and depression, and anxiety and depression can cause IBS. What a vicious cycle this can be!
3. The lifestyle cost of IBS. Just recently, I typed IBS into the Twitter search function, and automatically “IBS ruining life” populated. This literally broke my heart because IBS tried ruining my life as well. I ended up quitting my job at one point because with IBS the stress of the job was just too much for my symptoms. I’ve had to slash my old diet by about 70% in exchange for a new gluten-free, dairy-free, low-FODMAP diet. Having to deprive myself of favorite foods wasn’t even what affected me the most; it was more of the constant “I can’t eat that” or having to ask a waiter or waitress to dwindle your plate down from a delicious masterpiece to a bland dish. Not to mention having to think about every single thing you put in your mouth and how it’s going to affect your IBS and symptoms is extremely draining.
4. The relationship cost of IBS. When you have IBS, sometimes you can’t join your friends for a night out because your IBS symptoms are acting up too bad. I’ve had to leave memorable weddings early because of IBS stomach pains. Sometimes you want to do things with your friends, but you’re just too tired or are down in the dumps and don’t feel like doing anything but curling into a ball on your couch. IBS also makes having a significant other more difficult. There is even a new Twitter account @ibssingles where they provide dating advice for dating someone with IBS. I sure wish I had had this resource back when I first received my IBS diagnosis! I’m lucky enough that my husband is very understanding of my IBS and symptoms, but that doesn’t mean that our relationship hasn’t suffered at all from it. The constant complaining about having a stomachache, the unflattering flatulence, trading in a hot night with him for a hot heating pad in bed, the “high maintenance” of having to request special food everywhere we go, and just the constant mention of the word IBS has got to get old. I’m sure all of my friends and family get sick and tired of hearing about my health problems, but I’m lucky to have a support system that doesn’t show me that they’re annoyed by it if they are. If you have a strong support system, the cost of your relationships with an IBS diagnosis will be much less.
If you’re an IBS sufferer, you already know the true cost of having IBS. If you thought IBS was just an annoying stomach ache, now you know it’s much more than that. If you’re someone that loves an IBS sufferer, now you know the cost that they truly pay for having IBS if you didn’t already know. One word I wrote and then decided to delete from the opening paragraph of this article is happiness. Yes, there have been times when I probably would have been “happier” if I didn’t have all of the costs of IBS mentioned above, but I don’t think that we as IBS patients should let IBS rob us of our happiness. “It's about living in the moment and appreciating the smallest things. Surrounding yourself with the things that inspire you and letting go of the obsessions that want to take over your mind. It is a daily struggle sometimes and hard work but happiness begins with your own attitude and how you look at the world.” –Gretchen Rubin, the Happiness Project
Do you have a good understanding of what triggers your flares?