When people hear that I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), they think that I just cannot go to the bathroom regularly. I wish it was that simple. IBS impacts primarily women and it can be difficult to live with. I’ve experienced abdominal cramping that had me paralyzed on the bathroom floor. I have had to leave patient’s rooms in the middle of assessments to make sure I do not use the bathroom on myself. I have given myself an enema and the pain from it convinced me I gave birth to a small child. I know a lot of this may sound like TMI (too much information) but this is my reality.

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Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic, common intestinal disorder that causes pain, gas, diarrhea and constipation. You can have IBS-C (constipation), IBS-D (diarrhea) or a combination of both. I know that I’ve had problems with elimination all of my life. I remember my mother telling me stories about having to take me to the doctor as a baby because I would not poop. I know that I was diagnosed as a teenager after I was prescribed Ranitidine for stomach burning issues. I honestly thought I had an ulcer prior to going to the doctor but I was glad I did not. At the time, I was experiencing symptoms that mirrored IBS-C, so I was eating a lot of nutrition bars with fiber and other foods that contained fiber like popcorn (which is my favorite snack fyi). I also would take stool softeners regularly.

I wish I could precisely recall the moment in my adulthood that my symptoms became more along the lines with IBS-D. Probably all of the stress from nursing school turned my body around. I have experienced increased abdominal cramping and bloating with more frequent episodes of elimination throughout the day for many years. Not to be too graphic but I do go A LOT! Like five times a day properly. I am not trying to be gross but I want to make sure my sisterfriends understand the severity of this syndrome and know the signs for themselves.

Since this is a chronic condition, the best way for me to learn how to manage it is to figure out what my triggers are. Just like other conditions, everyone’s triggers are unique to them. Over the years, I have learned that my triggers include certain foods, carbonated drinks, stress and traveling.

All of the air from carbonation does not make my stomach happy. One 20 fl oz bottle of soda (we call it pop) can give me stabbing stomach cramps for hours. Carbonation can make me feel extremely bloated and make my stomach feel as if it is going to pop. Sugar and greasy foods are really hard on my stomach as well. It also does not help that I am lactose intolerant. Another trigger for me includes traveling. I really cannot explain it but when I go out of town I do not use the bathroom. I am not sure if my body just understands that I am in a different atmosphere or if it is all psychological but either way I do not go. And last, but most importantly, stress is a major trigger for me. Overall I am a pretty relaxed person but the two times that I have switched to night shift were a shock to my system and I had a really bad flare-up.

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There is medication available to help with IBS-D but I have chosen to not go on medication for it. I know that I can control this with lifestyle modifications. I recently started working out and eating a lot better. I instantly feel less bloated and feel like my elimination patterns are more controlled. I also have been drinking a lot of water, which helps my digestive system work properly. I very rarely drink beverages with carbonation in them.

I think my biggest insecurity with this condition comes from not fully being aware of when my colon is going to go spastic. And it really makes me concerned about dating since I use the bathroom so much. It is not exactly flattering. The best way for me to learn how to live with this is to modify my lifestyle and listen to my body.Instead of being ashamed about it. I have learned to embrace it. Since i cannot get rid of my condition, I am learning to control it instead of it controlling me.

I hope that this has helped you. If you want to learn more about IBS and how to control it, visit aboutibs.org/facts-about-ibs.