Have Recurring Gastrointestinal Symptoms? Don’t Wait to Tell Your Doctor

Many people find it difficult to discuss gastrointestinal problems with their doctors, yet such issues are far more common than you might realize. For example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is characterized by recurring abdominal pain with either constipation or diarrhea, impacts nearly 35 million Americans — and its effects go beyond physical discomfort, according to a new survey.

Three-quarters of IBS sufferers surveyed reported feeling frustrated and/or depressed according to a new survey from the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). And over half (52 percent) of all respondents said their symptoms were extremely or very bothersome — so much so that they reported they would give up caffeine (55 percent), their cell phone or Internet connection (47 percent), or even sex (40 percent) for one month for the chance to feel one month of relief.

The “IBS in America” survey, commissioned by the AGA and conducted with the financial support of Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Allergan plc, reveals many insights that could prove useful to both patients and doctors. For example, a majority of sufferers said they wait more than a year before even talking with a doctor about their symptoms.

“Talking about bowel function habits is never easy, but it is concerning to see how long the respondents in this survey often waited to talk to a doctor. There may not be a cure for IBS, but there are treatments. Patients need to see a doctor, and doctors need to be proactive in bringing up this topic in conversation with patients,” says Dr. Michael Camilleri, president of the AGA.

The AGA recommends three steps that can improve doctor-patient communication:

• Speak Up Early: The study revealed that many sufferers take the advice of friends or family without speaking to a doctor or attempt to self-medicate with over-the-counter products, without success. Instead of suffering in silence or taking advice from people who aren’t health-care professionals, talk to your physician about recurring abdominal pain and bowel symptoms.

• Speak Up Completely: Instead of just saying “I have constipation” or “I have diarrhea,” tell a doctor about the full extent of symptoms, how they impact your life, and what approaches you have already been tried to manage them.

• Speak Up Often: Tell a doctor if symptoms return despite treatment efforts. Your doctor can then assess alternatives.

Full survey results and more information about IBS can be found at ibsinamerica.gastro.org.

If you suffer from chronic abdominal pain and bowel symptoms, remember, you’re not alone.

“IBS is the seventh most common diagnosis made by all physicians and the most common diagnosis made by gastroenterologists,” points out Camilleri.

The sooner you seek professional help, the sooner you and your doctor can discuss all of your options for managing your symptoms.


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