I recently read Sophie's Story: My 20 Year Battle With Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Sophie is behind www.ibstales.com, a website she set up in sheer desperation after years of feeling alone and misunderstood. The stories that came in through the website made Sophie feel part of a much bigger problem and she knew she was no longer suffering on her own.
While I was reading the book, my own experience came flooding back. I often felt like I was the only one and my frustration caused by 'unexplainable' symptoms and hopeless GPs made me feel angry and miserable.
It's easy when you've been able to manage your symptoms for a few years to forget all those feelings. It even easier when you belong to a community of bloggers whose jolly posts about cupcakes and flapjacks distract you from what we're all trying to avoid...
* The afternoons on the loo
* The odd and embarrassing noises your body makes as you struggle to digest food
* The smells you leave behind in the bathroom for the queue of people waiting to use it after one of your marathon loo sessions
* Alternating constipation and diarrhea, rendering all medication useless
* The useless medication prescribed by the doctor
* Being told it 'must be stress related'
* Intimate examinations by the doctor
* Agonising weekends away
* Trying to remember your last bowel movement and failing
* The 6 months pregnant look
* Bouts of intense, crippling pain
* Holding in wind on dates, ending with you running home and collapsing on the toilet
* Really, really bad farts
* Never knowing for sure what is wrong with you and hoping that the doctor has a different answer for you next time
This is the reality and this is what I'd put to the back of my mind.
I still get many of these problems.
Most of the time it's because I've slipped up and had one of my trigger foods. Other times it's totally random and unexpected.
Sophie's book covers her long journey of discovery from the initial 'food poisoning' experience at 12 to where she is now. Like me, she finds that cutting out wheat and dairy helps her symptoms.
But I often wonder whether IBS exists and whether it isn't just food intolerances. Or, does IBS exist and it causes our bowels to become sensitive to certain foods?
The doctors don't know the answer.
Net Doctor says:
"Food intolerances can produce irritable bowel symptoms, but not every person with IBS will have food intolerances, and not every person with a food intolerance will have irritable bowel syndrome." A sweeping and unresearched statement if ever I heard one.
All I know is that I was diagnosed with IBS when I was in my teens and NONE of the IBS 'cures' worked. But excluding trigger foods from my diet had a dramatic and instant effect. The same goes for Sophie.
Channel 4's The Food Hospital has a web page for IBS and the 2 case stories (called Viewpoints) given are provided by people who have cut out wheat and dairy to help ease their IBS symptoms.
The programme pointed out a worrying trend - children are taking food intolerance tests and are being incorrectly diagnosed with many food intolerances. This is leading parents to restrict the child's diet, which can cause long term health damage. If this continues, more research will have to be done into food intolerances and IBS and we may end up with a definitive answer.
In the meantime, don't let your symptoms get you down, don't give up on trying to find your trigger foods and stock up on Tums.
Visit http://www.ibstales.com/sophies-story.htm for details on how to buy the book for yourself.