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What Is It like to Have IBS?

What Is It like to Have IBS?

It’s hard for people who don’t have IBS to know what it feels like, so here’s a little exercise to help anyone who doesn’t have IBS understand what it’s like for the rest of us.

Talk a walk in our shoes

Remember a time when you had a gastro bug and couldn’t stop going to the toilet, where your belly was in so much pain, cramping up and making you wish it would be over. Where you were afraid to leave the house because there had to be a toilet close by or there may be a serious problem. And then once it was finished, you were left feeling exhausted and drained and sore all over.

Now, think of a time when for some reason your system got really blocked up and you weren’t able to go to the toilet when you wanted to. Maybe you couldn’t go for a day or two and were left feeling like if you could just get something out, you’d feel better. Or maybe you could go, but could only get something out when you strained so hard it felt like something was going to break.

Next, think of a time that you ate everything at a big buffet or celebration dinner (like Christmas or Thanksgiving). Where your belly was so full, yet you kept eating and made it even more full, so you had to loosen a notch on your belt in order to feel comfortable. Then sitting down, rubbing your belly and knowing the only thing that was going to make your huge, full belly feel better was time.

Lastly, think about a time when you had gas that you struggled to hold in, making you feel like you were going to burst if you didn’t let it out, but knowing that if you did let it out, it would be a ripper that would be so loud or would smell so frightfully awful that everyone would know about it. Perhaps the gas was due to something unusual you ate or maybe it was connected to one of the other times described above, but if you held it in, it made your belly feel so sore.

Now, imagine experiencing all of this in the space of 1 or 2 days. Being blocked up one minute and unable to go, then running to the toilet the next and feeling like the world might end. Having your belly so full and huge, although this time not from too much food, with so much pain that even loosening your belt doesn’t help. And over the top of all that… gas, so much of it that holding it in is next to impossible, and so terribly pungent that it could almost fell an ox. And then trying to keep everything hidden from the people around you so they don’t know what’s going on because it would be so terribly embarrassing if they did.

Now you’re starting to understand.

One foot in front of the other

But when you have IBS, this doesn’t just happen for 1 or 2 days and then get better once the bug or other cause of your uncomfortableness has passed. It lasts. Forever. Unless you’re able to work out what triggers your symptoms and get it under control. But even if you do, there will still be bad days because you can’t keep things under control all of the time.

Everyone understands that we all get sick, eat too much, or just have bad days when the body does funny things, because everyone has experienced that at some point. But if you don’t personally have IBS, please try to understand that this how we feel far too often. This is what we hide from the world while we do our best to put one foot in front of the other and appear like everyone else.

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.


  • Loey
    2 years ago

    Nice article that partially describes my life. Now add in the crippling anxiety and panic attacks when I get up the nerve to leave my house. Trying to socialize when the only thing I can think of is how far away is the restroom, and will I get to in time. Always having to have a seat at the end of a table or aisle seat at the theatre in case it strikes. Being unable to fly because that seatbelt light can set off an anxiety attack and that in turn sets off an IBS attack. Having to avoid long car trips because there may not be a restroom closeby when it hits and URGENCY is the keyword. Not being able to accept a car ride from someone because you don’t want to risk having an accident in their car. Knowing that even though you are wearing super absorbency “special underwear” there’s only so much they can do. And by the way I can’t even explain what the mere act of putting on the special underwear does to the psyche. Always having to lug around a tote bag containing a change of clothes and lots of wipes. Having to go on anti-anxiety medication and always, always have a supply of Immodium on me even though I’ve taken several before even venturing out of the house. Having to miss out of lots of parties, get togethers, life in general because my system is acting up. IBS is not merely and inconvenience or a little pain every now and then, nor is it an adventure. It is a life ruiner and I don’t think anyone who doesn’t have IBS can truly understand that.

  • Rann1950
    3 years ago

    I could not have expressed this any better! I often fantasize about what it would be like NOT to have IBS! For me, everyday is an adventure.


  • Chris Hall moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Roberta,

    Thanks so much for your kind words! We’re glad that the article resonated with you. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    -Chris, Team Member

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