IBS Doesn’t Work at Work

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This article was made possible due to an unrestricted educational grant from Nestle Health Science, makers of IBgard.

People who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) often struggle with debilitating symptoms that seriously affect their ability to work and maintain a productive lifestyle. The thing about IBS, is the symptoms are not sexy, and often embarrassing for the individual suffering from them. So, they may have a hard time explaining to their boss and colleagues why they’re missing so much work, or why when they are at work, they’re distracted and not at their best.

IBS sufferers take more time off work, spend more days in bed, and cut down on usual activities on more days compared with non-IBS sufferers. A study conducted in the U.S. looked at the prevalence, symptom patterns and impact of IBS and found that almost one-quarter of IBS respondents work less hours, 11% miss work entirely and 67% feel less productive when at work due to symptoms. Two-thirds of existing IBS sufferers have had to reduce the number of normal activities they previously enjoyed participating in the last 12-month period for an average of 15 days.

We’ve compiled a list of symptoms to help you understand what someone with IBS is going through. If you find you have some of these symptoms, it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor about possible treatment options, which we will cover later in this article.

IBS Symptoms

IBS, unfortunately, does not get the recognition and awareness that it deserves, especially considering the fact that 7% to 21% of the general population is affected by this chronic illness.

Some symptoms to look out for:

BS, unfortunately, does not get the recognition and awareness that it deserves, especially since up to 20% of the general population is affected by this chronic illness at any given time.  Some symptoms to look out for:

  • Abdominal pain (cramping): IBS pain can be felt anywhere throughout the abdomen. Each bout of pain can vary in length and severity, and pain may increase and decrease over time. IBS pain is often relieved following a bowel movement.
  • Constipation:Symptoms of constipation can include passing three or fewer stools in one week, passing hard, dry stools, the passage of only small amounts of stool, and frequent straining during a bowel movement.
  • Diarrhea:Symptoms of diarrhea can include passing stool three or more times per day, passing loose, watery stools or feeling an urgent need to have a bowel movement.
  • Motility (movement of contents through the intestines):Normally, waves of coordinated intestinal muscle contractions (peristalsis transport digested food through the intestines. In people with IBS, the rhythm and coordination of these contractions may be altered. This altered motor function can result in the bowel moving too quickly (causing diarrhea) or too slowly (causing constipation and can lead to spasm and pain).
  • Sensitivity (how the brain interprets signals from the intestinal nerves):The network of nerves surrounding the digestive organs may become unusually sensitive. For some people with IBS, even a small change in intestinal activity can trigger the nerves to send messages to the brain causing abdominal pain.
  • Brain-gut dysfunction:In IBS, there may be problems in how the brain receives and processes sensations coming from the intestines. A malfunction may occur along the many different pathways that connect the brain and gut, interfering with the normal function of the intestines.

Other IBS symptoms may include: 

  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • A feeling of incomplete emptying of the bowels
  • Whitish mucus (a fluid made in the intestines) within or around the stools

Many aspects of everyday living can trigger or aggravate IBS symptoms. Triggers vary from person to person, but the most common ones include certain foods, medications, emotional stress, and hormone fluctuations. In particular, foods such as caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, fatty foods, certain fruits and vegetables, as well as lactose, fructose and gluten (wheat protein can cause problems for people with IBS. So pretty much all of the things that are common practice for people with busy work lives.

Sounds brutal. How do you fix it?

There are many ways to address IBS symptoms, and we cover a lot of them here, but despite our growing understanding of the disease, we have yet to develop a targeted treatment option that guarantees success. Treating IBS is usually a bit of process, where the patient needs to work with a combination of lifestyle changes, specialized diet plans, as well as over the counter and prescribed medications until they find a combo that’s right for them. After all, wellness is a personal journey, and everyone is different. This process can be emotionally taxing and frustrating as the results are often not immediate, and long-term compliance to a variety of treatment plans is necessary for results. However, there is hope!

Day to day life can be hectic and stressful even without having to deal with the debilitating symptoms of IBS. So first things first, check your diet.  Rule out lactose intolerance; limit insoluble (cannot dissolve in water) fibre; increase soluble fibre; and try the low FODMAP diet.  In addition, consider supplements.  Products such as probiotics, and peppermint oil capsules have been shown to help IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation and/or diarrhea.

Remember to always consult a physician or a registered dietitian before trying any new treatment options, or to help guide you through a change in diet.