Survey results for

October/January: IBS, Constipation and Diarrhoea

During our Online Clinic on Bladder, Bowel, and Digestive Health, we had a number of fascinating questions about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). As a result, we decided to give our members a chance to tell us more about their experiences with the condition, as well as the connected symptoms of constipation and diarrhoea, in our Survey of the Month at the end of 2015.

IBS Sufferers

Most of the IBS sufferers who responded to the survey had first noticed IBS symptoms in their 20s, and most had been suffering with the condition for under 10 years. Of the three common types of IBS (IBS with constipation, IBS with diarrhoea, and IBS with alternating constipation and diarrhoea), IBS with alternating constipation and diarrhoea was the most common at nearly 50%.

The most common symptoms among IBS sufferers were bloating (or stomach swelling), cramping, wind (or flatulence), and general abnominal pain – all of those symptoms were experienced by over 70% of IBS sufferers. Over half said that they experience exhaustion (or tiredness) and a sudden need to use the toilet. When asked to rank the symptoms that affect them the most, interestingly, at least some people responded that each of the symptoms listed was the one that affected them the most. This indicates that the experiences of IBS sufferers are diverse, and so are their treatment needs. Bloating, a sudden need to use the toilet, and stomach cramps were the symptoms most frequently listed as having the most significant effects.

Asked to evaluate their symptoms overall, less than half a percent said that they were not severe at all; the vast majority (89%!) said that their symptoms were at least moderate, and well over a third said that they were either severe or very severe.

Evaluating the effect of their IBS-related symptoms on day-to-day activities, the activity in which IBS sufferers seemed to feel most effected was going out in public – around two thirds said that their IBS symptoms had moderate effect or worse in this area, and nearly 40% said that their ability to go out in public was effected ‘quite a lot; or ‘very much’. Most reported being similarly effected in their work lives, their sex lives, in their relationships, and in their sleep schedules – for each of these, over half of the people who completed the survey indicated that they were effected at least moderately.

Three quarters of the IBS sufferers who completed the survey had implemented dietary changes to try to manage their IBS; over half had tried making lifestyle changes such as cutting down on stress and taking prescription medications. Many others had tried over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements. The most common medications used were antispasmodics (including muscle relaxants such as peppermint oil), and laxatives.

Perhaps surprisingly, and most interestingly of all, over three quarters of IBS sufferers indicated that none of the treatments they had tried had treated their symptoms satisfactorily. The vast majority (around two thirds) indicated that they felt that there was insufficient support offered by the medical profession.

Finally, asked about where they get IBS information from, the most popular answers (in order) were GPs, NHS Choices, and talkhealth.

Non-IBS Sufferers

Most of the people who completed the survey were IBS sufferers. Even among those who had not been diagnosed with IBS, though, 20% reported experiencing constipation at least once a month; and 16% reported experiencing diarrhoea at least once a month. Nearly half of people said that they experience these symptoms at least once a year.

Around 40% of people said that a change in diet had caused them to experience constipation at some point in their lives; 40% also said that dietary changes had caused them to experience diarrhoea. Around a third of people said that stress or anxiety had caused constipation for them; and, again, a similar number said that stress or anxiety had caused diarrhoea. Other common causes included a lack of sleep, travelling, and lifestyle changes.

This month, our members also had a chance to give us feedback on what the results meant to them. A large number of the IBS sufferers we surveyed were surprised that their experiences were shared by so many people – especially the fact that existing treatments had proven ineffective for so many others. We were pleased to see that so many of our members were encouraged to learn that they were not alone. Here’s what some of you had to say:

  "I found the results very interesting, especially the fact that although many people display similar symptoms... there is not an 'all for one' type of treatment, and in fact many people have not found a treatment that works. This makes me feel less alone and 'weird' as I have tried many treatments without success."  
  "I was shocked at how many people have very severe symptoms, as I do. I used to think I was the only one who suffered this badly, with no one understanding what I go through."  
  "I was glad to read that it was not just me who thought there was insufficient support and remedies for this. We all think we are alone in our sufferings. Very interesting."  

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