What Does Functional Disorder Actually Mean When It Comes to IBS?

For those people who have suffered from IBS for a decent amount of time, you probably have heard your disease be referred to as a "functional disorder." That term sounds like a disorder that definitely impacts the person who has it, but he/she should be fully functional regardless.The term functional disorder pretty much implies that a person suffering from IBS should be able to manage their disease without it interfering with work, school, or relationships. Functional disorder also kind of makes it seem like there is no pain, discomfort or embarrassing issues involved. All of which can and often takes its toll on someone’s mental health.

What does functional disorder actually mean when it comes to IBS?

It means that the structure of the intestines or digestive tract are not changed. That is why a colonoscopy or CT scan won’t show IBS because on all imaging and scopes performed on the patient, everything appears to be normal. That doesn’t always mean the person’s intestines are working normally; it merely means that no harm has been done to them.

An example of a non-functional bowel disorder is inflammatory bowel disease which is comprised of Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. With this disease, intestines can appear ulcerated or inflamed which can and often will show up on diagnostic tests.

That is the layman's, non-medicinal definition of what a “functional bowel disorder” means. It is also one of the ways doctors and other people in the medical community use to explain the difference between IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease.)

The problem with using this terminology with the public is that it makes IBS seem like an insignificant problem when the reality is, many people suffer silently daily. Lack of adequate awareness for IBS can lead to a lot of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, ruined relationships, and consequently, poor mental health for those who suffer. Being an invisible illness also doesn’t help much in terms of getting others to understand. No one can see or feel what is going on inside of you so you need to rely on the people around you to believe you are suffering and also educate themselves. If the research they are reading or looking into is not doing an adequate job of truly articulating what it is that an IBS sufferer goes through, that is going to cause a lot of problems. I would rather someone not read a single thing about my chronic illness than read bad information, or misinterpret something that is said.

While I understand that IBS sufferers don’t have intestines that are going to need to be removed which is obviously a huge plus, to say that it is a functional disorder, is very misleading. As someone who suffers from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD,) I can say that it took a personal friend of mine who has the disease to suffer enormously and a heck of a lot of research {from reputable sources} for me to truly understand just how serious IBS can be.

IBS can make people miss out on special occasions and events, change friendships/relationships, alter the way a person looks at food, cause a person to frequent the doctor a lot, and impact a person’s ability to work and/or go to school. Those are just some facts about IBS. To me, that doesn't sound very functional. When something impedes on a person’s life like that and clearly takes its toll physically, that is a serious problem. It may not cause structural problems with organs but it would be great if the disorder was not minimized by certain language associated with it.

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