Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Talking Sh*t : IBS Awareness Week



There are many different types of blogger.

Lifestyle bloggers, parenting bloggers, beauty bloggers and so on.

I've never really known which blogger category to put myself in as although I mostly write about all things motherhood, I also have a tendency to flit about between subjects and - for some reason - I have always had a strong desire to just write about any topic at all that mattered to me.

And when you do that, occasionally there'll be a subject that feels a bit awkward. And you'll get that "Eeek" feeling when you think about publishing your thoughts and experiences on that subject for the whole wide internet to see.

I got that feeling when I shared my experience of domestic abuse, I got it back when I first shared my experience of living with panic and anxiety disorder, I got it when I first decided to talk about my experiences of bullying. But I pushed past those feelings and published anyway, because some subjects just feel important - they feel as though they NEED to be discussed no matter how uncomfortable it might feel.

So today, I'm pushing that "Eeek" feeling aside again...because I've just realised that April is, in fact, IBS awareness month.

And something I, quite unsurprisingly, don't like to talk about much is the fact that I am an IBS sufferer.

I don't think you can really blame me for not wanting to talk about it because lets face it - Who enjoys talking about such glamourous topics as bowel movements, embarrassing wind and bloated tummies?!

But here's the thing - IBS is said to affect MILLIONS of people in the UK alone. Which means that the odds are that a high percentage of readers of this blog will also be sufferers. But, because of embarrassment, it is very rarely discussed and so sufferers can very often end up living in pain and discomfort because they would rather suffer in silence than share tips or get a formal diagnosis.

So sod it....let's talk about it. The whole embarrassing lot of it!

Let's talk shit! (...or lack of, as the case may be)

So what is IBS?

For those out there lucky enough not to suffer with it, IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and it's a condition that effects its sufferers in a variety of ways including:

*Painful stomach cramps or spasms
*Extreme bloating
*Flatulence/painful gas
*Recurrent diarrhoea or frequent constipation
*Urgent need to empty the bowels and/or a feeling of the bowels not being fully emptied

I was actually only formally diagnosed with IBS about 2 months ago, despite the fact that I have been suffering with the symptoms for at least 15 years.

The thing with IBS is it can be a tricky bugger to nail down as the symptoms mimic so many other conditions - and some of those conditions can be serious, which - for me at least - means a whole load of stress and anxiety! I probably tell Jon at least 3 or 4 times a month that I'm convinced I'm dying of undiagnosed bowel cancer. That probably sounds quite dramatic, but if you've ever felt the PAIN that can come about during an IBS flare up you wouldn't be surprised or think it an over reaction at all.

My IBS has been misdiagnosed as many things over the years - for a long time I used to refer to it as "travel tummy" because it only seemed to really become an issue when I was travelling somewhere.

If ever I was going on a long train journey, or flying anywhere, then I could always guarantee I'd spend the entire day feeling as though my stomach was in knots, suffering with the most embarrassing stinky gas known to man (perfect when you're about to spent the day locked in a giant tin can with hundreds of other poor unwitting travellers) and having to RUN to the loo every 5 minutes.

I'd always assumed it was just down to travel anxiety nerves, and it probably was - because IBS actually goes hand in hand with anxiety and many sufferers of one will find themselves living with the other too.

Fast forward to my first pregnancy and, after a particularly awful night of extreme pain and diarrhoea one evening, I found myself in the back of an ambulance on the way to hospital with those around me concerned I may be going into early labour. After a few days in hospital and some ultrasounds, I was sent home with a diagnosis of gallstones.

Nothing could be done to treat them whilst I was pregnant, so I was to wait it out - but once the baby had arrived, the symptoms settled and it was decided that no action needed to be taken. Yes I had some small gallstones, but apparently so do a huge percentage of the population and they rarely cause problems.

Following on from my second pregnancy, new symptoms were popping up all the time - I found that I was unable to eat the vast majority of foods without experiencing extreme sharp pains in my stomach, suffering with terrible gas, and spending the majority of the day on the loo - I was also suffering with extreme bloating, with my tummy looking as rounded as it did at 9 months pregnant most of the time.

Again more trips to the Dr and this time an initial diagnosis of suspected Celiac disease followed by blood tests and then a reduced verdict of a simple gluten intolerance.

A year on, after more non-gluten containing foods were producing the same symptoms, I reintroduced wheat and gluten slowly to my diet and found they didn't produce any adverse effects.

But still, the symptoms remained and now finally, I have my IBS diagnosis.

I always used to think of IBS as one of those imagined illnesses, one of those new-fangled medical labels that's been given to a very straight forward problem such as indigestion or poor diet.

But no. I can confirm that I was an idiot to think those things.

IBS is, in laymens terms, a bitch to live with.

There's nothing quite so humiliating as being on a day out with your kids and having that sudden intense pain in your gut, and having to run to find a public toilet for fear of being caught short in public.

There's nothing quite so humiliating as the realisation that no amount of firemans blankets and well-timed flushing is going to cover up the sound effects of your IBS attack from whichever poor unsuspecting person happens to be using the next cubicle.

There's nothing quite so humiliating as having to visit your Dr and endure a finger up your bum while they try to figure out why you haven't done a poo in over a week, despite all the laxitives they keep giving you.

And there's nothing quite so humiliating as your tummy looking as though you're about 2 weeks away from giving birth when you're not even pregnant.

Even now, as I'm sitting here writing this post, my stomach is making the LOUDEST gurgling and popping noises that I have EVER heard coming from any human - and that's all fine when you're sitting alone on your bed with your laptop, but when you're sitting having a cup of tea with a friend it's REALLY EMBARRASSING!

So no, IBS is not an imagined illness. And yes, it is an absolute bitch of a condition!

But it needs to be talked about because the more people are aware of it, the more people will know to seek help and a formal diagnoses to start on the road to a less painful and cringe filled life!

As for tips on how to live with IBS, I'm sure everybodys case is different...I have tried and tested more medications, diets and voodoo witch doctor miracle cures over the last few months than I care to admit but I have found certain things which seem to work well for me:

1) Drink more water

A boring one, I know and I have to admit, I have always HATED water. But it does seem to help. I drink a full glass of water about 20 minutes after each meal now to aid digestion.

2) Up your fibre intake

My Dr recommended wheat bran sprinkled on cereals or yoghurts which I tried for a while, but I found I have a lot more success by eating prunes and/or drinking prune juice. It's kind of disgusting yes, but it's better than spending a week trying desperately to go to the loo which is what happens if I don't drink it! I have a glass of prune juice or a hand full of prunes each morning, and each night before bed.

3) Make a note of trigger foods and avoid them

With most IBS sufferers there will be certain foods that you just can't tolerate, common offenders are fatty foods, spicy foods etc.  But sometimes your trigger foods can be unexpected ones.

My biggest trigger is cucumber! I cannot eat even a slice of it without suffering a flare up...I have no idea why and it sucks as I actually love cucumber! But it's just not worth the effect it has on me.

Be aware that your trigger foods can take anything from a few hours to 48 hours to show their effect on you, so its worth keeping a food diary - that way when you experience a flare up you can look back at what you've eaten for the last few days and hopefully a pattern will begin to emerge to help you identify your possible triggers.

4) Know When You Go

I always used to think my Nan was a right weirdo because she would often say she couldn't go out anywhere until she'd had her "morning poo" (Try being 8 and hearing your nan tell you that as you try to eat your morning weetabix, grim!) but nowadays I actually wonder if she was an IBS sufferer too (wouldn't surprise me as I seem to have inherited most of my health issues from her, she was very generous with sharing her ailments apparently!) because I now understand the importance of keeping some sort of record of your movements.

I started doing this after my Dr helped me to realise that what was causing the majority of my flare ups - the pain, the disgusting tasting eggy burps I would suffer with (sorry, I did warn you this wouldn't be pleasant!), the horrendous loud gurgling noises coming from my tummy and so on - was actually periods of constipation or just not going to the loo often enough.

She informed me that the back up of fermented waste in my system was the source of all of my problems - and that if I was able to just keep things regular and take steps (i.e - laxatives!) as soon as I realised I hadn't been for a while then I could eliminate most of the attacks.

And do you know what? It has worked amazingly well!! Just by making sure that I stay regular, I have managed to reduce the number of my attacks from around 3 per week to once every 2 or 3 months which has been AMAZING. I've also noticed a significant reduction in my bloating too!

5) Products That Help

This will, of course, vary for everyone but things that have helped me are:

1) Senocalm - To prevent an attack, I take these each night before bed.

2) Silicogel - I take this before each meal, and it seems to have had a huge impact on lowering the frequency of attacks

3) Boots Pepti-Calm - I only take this when I am having a bad flare up, but it works brilliantly at relieving the symptoms - particulary the horrific sulphur burps and stomach pains!


If you're living with IBS, just know that you're not alone - it can be a depressing and embarrassing condition to live with but there are so many people who suffer with it too, so don't feel you need to suffer in silence.


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4 comments

  1. I think I have IBS and am having tests to find out! If do I've had it years too but it's mainly been 'inactive' until now! The discomfort at times this last week has been horrid! Sat here now and I'm not comfy! Good on you for breaking a taboo! I shall start taking my Senocalm each night now! Thank you x

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  2. Hi, my name is Lisa and I have IBS. Standing up in S.A (Shit Annonymous). I also have Fibromyalgia. I am currently on a low fodmap diet, to try and calm my bubbling, gurgling, painful stomach. It's a cruel illness, a one that few understand. I have a lot of trigger foods. Stress and anxiety, don't help matters. Thank you for writing this post. L.x

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  3. I so feel your struggle! I was diagnosed with IBS about 4.5 years ago. My biggest problem is the frequent stomach cramps and diarrhea.I take prescription Bentyl but have still continued to have problems. I've recently also been diagnosed with having gallstones and actually just had surgery to remove my gallbladder today. It's been a very depressing and lonely year for me. I have a fear of going out and participating in too many activities outside my house (I never know when my symptoms will strike). My family is sympathetic but they don't really understand the isolation this illness causes and sometimes I wonder if my friends think it's all in my head or a "made-up" illness as you said. Hang in there and thanks for the post.

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  4. Aaagh! It's so important to share this. Feeling your pain. I developed IBS after having my eldest, who is nearly 16, although I probably had a mild form before that. I excluded a lot of foods back in 2007 and it made a huge difference to me. I now eat nearly all of them again, but in slightly smaller quantities than normal. I still suffer, but it's at a level I can deal with most of the time.

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