By Tegan Gaetano, Program Director, International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD)
It may come as a surprise to many because it’s often regarded as a trivial condition, but irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most prevalent and burdensome chronic conditions reported by patients. It’s cited as the second leading cause of work and school absenteeism, second only to the common cold, and was found to cause those affected to restrict their personal and professional activities an average of 20 percent of the calendar year, or 73 days.
IBS is typically characterized by recurring or chronic bouts of abdominal pain in association with a change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation. Symptoms of IBS can flare up unexpectedly and can change over time or even from day to day.
This can make trying to establish a regular work routine difficult. Needing to duck out of presentations, meetings, and conference calls to use the bathroom can cause embarrassment in the workplace or even put a strain on work relationships and trying to concentrate on work activities while you are doubled over with abdominal pain can greatly reduce productivity. Work travel can pose an even bigger challenge as the uncertainty of when and where symptoms may occur can cause fear of not being able to control symptoms when away from your usual environment.
Although it’s important to work closely with your physician to develop a long-term symptom management plan, here are few simple tips that can help you get through the workday:
- Create a schedule. By establishing a regular routine for meals, work hours and bathroom breaks, you may find you have greater predictive power over your symptoms. Try scheduling meetings and presentations well in advance or well after meals or bathroom visits if these cause greater symptoms.
- Know your triggers. IBS can be influenced by a number of factors including stress, diet, sleep quality and lifestyle. Start a diary to identify factors that may bring on symptoms or make your condition worse and try to avoid these as much as possible.
- Practice open communication. IBS affects 10 to 15 percent of Americans – 30 to 45 million people. So, chances are, many of the people you work with also have it. Try discussing your symptoms and needs openly and honestly with your supervisor so you can develop a plan for the workday that accommodates extra bathroom trips or other symptoms.
April is IBS Awareness Month. First designated by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) in 1997 to bring awareness to this often misunderstood and stigmatized condition, IBS Awareness Month is now recognized nationwide.
Editor’s note: If you currently receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and would like to return to work, click here for information on protecting your benefits while attempting to earn more income.