By Grace Brewer
For almost 10 years, April has been known as the month for raising awareness about digestive health.
IBS Awareness Month is currently running worldwide.
Supported by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders – an organisation providing knowledge and support regarding Irritable Bowel Syndrome – the event aims reduce the stigma attached to Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
These are just a few words that come to mind when thinking about IBS.
In many cases, people are deterred from seeking medical help due to having these words associated with them.
Many people believe the condition is stress-related.
Although stress can trigger symptoms in IBS sufferers, it is not the cause.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is an illness involving chronic bowel problems and abdominal pain.
For some it can include constipation and diarrhoea.
The cause is unknown and the disorder can’t be cured.
Medication can reduce pain and food management can detect which foods trigger symptoms but many people with IBS don’t seek help or even discuss it with others.
If the symptoms aren’t managed, IBS can often affect a person emotionally and disrupt all aspects of a person’s life.
Bournemouth-based Digestive Health Therapist, Marie Houlden, feels IBS can limit a person’s potential and affect their education, career, life goals, relationships and self-esteem.
“There is already increasing pressure on young people to be successful and to do well, but add into the mix the pressure of money, the dynamics of friendships, family and relationships and then all the curve balls that life throws at you – it’s no wonder that IBS is becoming more and more common.”
Marie often treats students and says her clients are getting younger and younger.
“I think as a society generally we are more and more stressed and for many it is starting earlier in life.
I wish I knew in my early twenties what I know now about looking after my physical and emotional health, it would have made life a lot easier to navigate.”
Marie suffered from IBS herself but describes herself as “one of the lucky ones”.
“I certainly had some symptoms that made me very uncomfortable, but for some the symptoms are incredibly embarrassing and affect the quality of their life.”
Marie was diagnosed with IBS in her twenties when she was referred to a dietitian. She cut all dairy from her diet, lost weight and her IBS subsided, until life became more stressful and the symptoms returned.
“I got to a point of desperation, I knew that there had to be something causing it all.
“It was then, aged 32, I discovered Kinesiology.
“Through working out the foods I was sensitive to and the emotions that contribute to my stress, I gained physical control of my symptoms.”
Kinesiology tests muscles to see which respond positively when pressure is applied.
Along with support and diet or lifestyle recommendations, Marie uses this technique to help others dealing with the same issue.
“My clients have been to the doctors and have perhaps dabbled with eliminating foods, then when they are still struggling physically and emotionally, they tend to come to me – often it is as a last resort, which is such a shame.”
According to IFFGD, between 9-23% of people are affected by IBS, with 2 out of 3 cases being female.
Bournemouth University student, Charlotte Petty was diagnosed with IBS aged 12.
“My IBS is triggered when I eat certain things, mostly food like chips or when I eat out and I can get a really upset stomach and horrible pains.
“When my boyfriend visits Bournemouth we’ll go out for meals but my stomach can flare up, we’d have to leave sooner than planned because I’m in so much pain.
“When I was younger, I went to the doctor after having unbearable stomach pains and my mum was worried.
“I got told I had IBS straight away and they told me to keep track of what I eat to see if anything in particular set it off but they didn’t give me any treatments or medication.”
Although Charlotte feels confident speaking about her condition, many students suffer in silence.
“I think people don’t know much about it, most people think you just constantly need the toilet but it’s more painful than anything else for me!”
And this is a common perception. IBS specialist Marie said: “Many of my clients are concerned their symptoms made them unattractive.
“No one really wants to talk about their bowels and their digestive health but for me it’s no big deal – I’ve heard it all!”
She advises students to see a doctor but to consider a joint approach when tackling IBS, encouraging those affected go to the doctor to seek help initially, but urging them to not forget there are other options available.
“IBS does not have to take over your life.”