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Everybody Poops! But How Regular is ‘Regular?’

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Are you one of the 75 percent of individuals with undiagnosed irritable bowel syndrome? If so, you might experience some of the main symptoms, including frequent abdominal pain and bowel irregularity. And with April being IBS Awareness Month, now’s the time to talk about it.

As a 21-year-old woman, I have had my own experiences with what I assume to be IBS, though I lacked a concrete diagnosis by a physician.

But why is that?

Many people, most commonly young to middle-aged women, are either embarrassed to talk about their bowels or they don’t know who they can talk to.

And this makes sense. Conversations about diarrhea and frequent bloating are typically not public topics of discussion.

With the awkwardness that surrounds conversations about IBS in its different forms, many people remain undiagnosed and uncomfortable, unable to live healthy, confident lives.

But the murmur surrounding bowel-based conversation can become more audible, the more we address digestive issues in a respectful and mature manner.

I recently spoke with Dr. Mark Pimentel, the Executive Director of the Medically Associated Science and Technology (MAST) Program at Cedars-Sinai.

Pimentel and I spoke a great deal about the symptoms people have with IBS, and why so many people have trouble getting the help they need to live more comfortably.

“People have symptoms for years,” said Pimentel, “and because they are not dying of it, they just pass it off and get used to it.”

Unfortunately, Pimentel is right in this statement. Too many people who live with IBS to some degree, men and women alike, do not get themselves the proper care because they know it isn’t life threatening. However, living with untimely bowel movements on a chronic basis can really affect the way someone lives.

A study funded by Salix Pharmaceuticals compares the symptoms, health care methods, and treatment of people with both diagnosed and undiagnosed IBS.

Researchers found that 56.9 percent of the 1,924 individuals who took part in the survey met the criteria for IBS. The remaining 43.1 percent had no medical diagnosis whatsoever.

Such results underscore the understanding that an overwhelming majority of people who live with IBS-related pains and discomforts have not been properly diagnosed by a medical professional, and have thus not been properly treated.

With this information in mind, Pimentel and I discussed ways in which people with undiagnosed IBS can make helpful adjustments to their daily habits and live more comfortable, healthy lives.

The first thing Pimentel suggested was that we educate ourselves more clearly on what exactly causes IBS, and how we can deal with it.

One of the most surprising things that he told me was that, in recent scientific research and understanding of IBS, about 54 percent of patients think that stress and anxiety cause IBS. However, IBS has been shown to cause stress and anxiety in many people who experience both.

By way of offering a deeper explanation about this finding, Pimentel stressed the importance of understanding how the microbiome of our intestines works.

Essentially, the good bacteria that we have in our bodies can be a bit off balance. This means that the disturbed bacteria in our guts can, and often does, contribute to IBS symptoms.

The second thing that Pimentel suggested was that anyone having IBS-type symptoms should see their doctor if they haven’t done so in the last five years. He encourages people to revisit their physicians and have open conversations about how they can properly address their IBS.

Talking about something as personal as bowel movements may seem a bit odd, especially when doing so with someone whom you might not know well. But, as with any other medical condition, heightened awareness about IBS can help many people seek the help they need to live their best and most healthy lives.

If you or someone you know has some of the IBS-symptoms mentioned here, contact your physician and educate yourself on the many facets of irritable bowel syndrome.

Sayuk, Gregory S., Ray Wolf, and Lin Chang. "Comparison of Symptoms, Healthcare Utilization, and Treatment in Diagnosed and Undiagnosed Individuals With Diarrhea-Predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome." The American Journal of Gastroenterology(2017): n. pag. Web.

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Interview with Dr. Mark Pimentel.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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