How to talk about your IBS with Diarrhoea
2nd April 2017
If your IBS means you are constantly rushing off to the toilet with diarrhoea it can be embarrassing to talk about it.
If your work colleagues and friends have more information about your condition they'd be able to understand your actions. They may think it's odd that you are always leaving meetings for an important 'phone call' or cancelling social events at the last minute.
The IBS Network is a charity that supports people with IBS. It believes that talking openly about the condition will improve education and promote effective self-management for those with IBS.
Its chief executive, Alison Reid, says there's a need to break the "poo taboo" that surrounds IBS with diarrhoea (IBS-D).
1. Talking can help
What causes IBS isn't fully known. Experts think it's related to having a sensitive gut and problems digesting food. There may also be a psychological component to it.
"People sometimes struggle to feel in control with IBS-D," says leading IBS expert and author Dr Nick Read. He is a psychotherapist who treats people with IBS.
"I get people to talk about how they are feeling and try to get an impression of what's going on in their lives. I find that listening to people rather than talking to them helps give an insight. Once people open up and start talking, their symptoms can lessen. I'm not saying that IBS-D is psychosomatic it's just that it can have a psychological aspect," explains Nick.
2. Tell friends and family
Having supportive friends and family can help you deal with the anxiety that can come with IBS-D. The more they understand about your condition the better. If you say nothing about the fact you don't eat when you go out with them, or only eat a tiny amount they may even think you have an eating disorder.
As IBS is so common you may find other people in your family or friendship group have similar issues but they've been too scared to talk about them.
3. Tell colleagues
It's harder talking about your condition with people you work with as you have a more professional relationship with them. Remember it is a medical condition and you have no reason to feel guilt or shame.
Susan Kay has had IBS-D on and off for a decade. She says attitudes are changing. "My work-place is mainly male and in the past I wouldn't dream of confiding about my IBS with any of my colleagues. In the same way as I wouldn't have spoken about period pain. Nowadays IBS is far more understood and recognised than it was, so it's easier to talk about," says Susan.
4. Keep it general
It may be helpful to have a script in your head about what to say. Keep it general, talk about digestive problems or a sensitive stomach rather than going into detail about your bowel habits.
"Some people are deeply ashamed of what happens to them but a diagnosis of IBS can help people speak about it. IBS is well-talked about in the media so it helps that people are now more aware of the condition," says Nick.
He adds: "Talk about having IBS or a dodgy tummy rather than going into detail about your bad diarrhoea, so you don't need to give too much information. If you explain it in general terms a person can see there's a reason for your actions."
5. Talk to your GP
One person you shouldn't have a problem talking to about IBS is your GP. It's a common reason for people to seek help from their doctor. GPs have people coming to talk to them about their IBS all the time.
"When discussing your symptoms with a medical professional use terms that you feel comfortable with, such as 'poo' and 'bottom'," says Wendy Green, author of 'IBS: A self-help guide to feeling better'.
5. You are not alone
Even if it feels as though you are the only one dealing with IBS it is a pretty common condition.
The NHS estimates around 1 in 5 people in the UK experiences it at some point in their lives.
When you do talk about it, often other people open up and say "me too".
6. Talk in relationships
If you think you may have to make an emergency toilet dash it can kill the mood when it comes to sex and intimacy.
The more anxious you are the worse it'll be too. Talking to your partner about your issues will help you feel less stressed. If you know your triggers and are managing your condition as best you can through diet and medication there's no reason for it to affect your sex life. If you just refuse sex because you are worried about accidents your partner may feel rejected if they don't understand what's really behind your decision.
Talking through problems in your relationship to reduce stress may also help your IBS. One study in the journal Social Science and Medicine showed IBS symptoms were worse if there was a lot of conflict in your relationship.
7. Talk about your needs
If you keep quiet about your IBS you won't be able to talk about what will help you manage it.
At work let your manager or human resources department know the situation. Let them know you need quick access to a bathroom. If you have to have time off work when you get an IBS flare-up find out about their policies and who can help. Discuss ways of working from home on bad days.
Sara, who's an IBS Network member, has had IBS-D for more than 20 years. She says: "If you can, do tell your employer and immediate co-workers that you have a recognised medical condition which means that, at times, you may not be able to do certain things such as travelling long distances or attending long meetings without breaks. I have found that people do make allowances, and often, these kinds of challenges are actually more easily achieved than you anticipate.
8. Talk about how you manage it
The more confident you are about managing your IBS-D the easier it'll be to talk about.
Tell people up front if you need to take medication or about the diet that you follow to avoid flare-ups. Think of it as educating other people. The more people understand about IBD the less of a taboo subject it becomes.