Lara’s Story – IBS
When Lara was first diagnosed she felt like a lost cause, with too many people dismissing IBS as just an "upset tummy". Read her story here:
Talk us through the time prior to your diagnosis:
I’ve had a sensitive gut for as long as I can remember. I was born with an ‘immature bowel’, so I’ve always been prone to stomach upset.
6 years ago, I had a case of gastroenteritis. I started with pain and diarrhoea and even after a few weeks, I was still experiencing these awful symptoms that seemed to be whenever I ate.
I moved across the country to begin my master’s at university. My stomach issues just added the stress of living alone, away from my loved ones. Months later, I was eating a very basic diet of rice, pasta and bananas. These were all I could eat without getting pain or severe acid reflux and at the time. I visited GP’s a number of times but felt like I had little help.
I returned home at Christmas and mum pulled me to one side to check if I was okay. She said I looked gaunt and my clothes were baggy. She was right, I had gone from a size 12 to a size 6 in just 4 months.
I made another appointment with my GP who referred me to a gastroenterologist due to the significant weight loss. I had a number of tests and investigations which ruled out cancer and a number of other digestive diseases.
The only possibility left was Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
How did you feel when you were diagnosed with IBS?
I was confused and overwhelmed. No one could offer me much help. I felt like a lost cause – compared to all the ‘severe’ conditions like bowel cancer or Crohn’s disease. IBS never felt like enough to warrant the specialists attention, but it hugely affected my life. I was sent on my way and expected to live with it. The whole experience was extremely upsetting, to be honest.
How does IBS affect your daily life?
I have to be very careful with what I eat and drink. After seeing a dietitian on the NHS, I was put on the FODMAP diet, which does work for me. I tend to tire easily and can’t do much exercise. I also get quite severe bloating which makes me feel uncomfortable, so I wear stretchable clothes. I have to carry around an emergency pack with me with spare underwear and other items for ‘just in case’ moments.
Mostly though, I miss finding eating out an enjoyable experience.
What attitudes of others do you experience towards your condition?
A lot of people dismiss IBS as just ‘an upset tummy’. Others try to overcompensate, telling me what I should and shouldn’t do – but everyone is different.
How do you feel you’ve been supported?
My family have been amazing in supporting me, attending appointments with me and even buying books to learn more about IBS. My mum is now an expert in cooking ‘Lara friendly’ meals as she calls it! My partner is so supportive too, staying up with me all night if I’m wretching into the toilet with reflux, or getting me a hot water bottle for my abdominal pains.
My friends are really understanding too. One time we were at a gig and I was struggling with energy, unable to stand up. They sat on the floor with me in the middle of the crows and we enjoyed the music from there. Little things like that mean the absolute world to me. The team at the IBS Network have been fantastic too, giving me so much information and contacts.
How have you been more recently?
I’m much more stable now. I’ve worked out how to cope when I do ‘flare up’. My diet is constantly improving too, slowly reintroducing food and working out what I can and can’t eat. The social taboo around IBS and other gut disorders is still damaging. I try to be as open and honest as I can about my condition – #nomorepootaboo!
I hope that in the future, no one will ever feel embarrassed or dirty about their symptoms. There’s nothing to be ashamed about!
Why do you feel the work that Guts UK does is important?
Guts UK and other charities do such amazing work to break down those taboos and get people talking about their guts! I come across too many people who just dismiss their symptoms, thinking it’s not important enough to seek help for.
I have accepted that my digestive condition may never be curable, but finding ways to manage symptoms makes life a little easier and it’s worth it. I’ve taken part in several studies trying to understand IBS better, aiming to find new treatments and so on.
Why have you chosen to share your story today?
I am always open and honest about my condition. If one person reads this and thinks, “I’m not alone”, then it has been worth it.
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