“(I am unable) to function normally—have severe fatigue, severe GI symptoms and urgency, difficulty being out of house, extremely limited diet; no matter what I do, the symptoms are worsening and regularly flaring. I cannot work and have kids. I have sought medical care over and over with not much help, am often dismissed and not taken seriously.” – Canadian patient living with IBS1
In 2016, the Gastrointestinal Society of Canada published results from a survey of patients diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in an effort to understand the ways this condition affects daily life; the quote above was just one among many statements made by patients living with this chronic, often debilitating disorder.1 Studies suggest that 53% of patients with IBS have suffered for more than 10 years with symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation and/or diarrhea.2
The prevalence of IBS is approximately 10% in Western countries, and yet only half of these patients consult a clinician.2 And although each person has a unique IBS experience within the range of known symptoms, studies suggest that this condition may significantly decrease a person’s quality of life.3,4 Symptom severity, in relation to bowel function or abdominal pain, has been shown to have the most important effect on reducing quality of life in IBS patients.2 A US survey of 350 IBS patients found that two-thirds of respondents reported missing an average of over 10 activities or social events over a three-month period due to IBS, equivalent to one activity per week,5 and 20% of IBS-D (IBS with predominant diarrhea) patients agreed with the statement, “My IBS has badly affected my working life.”6
There need to be studies done to help people get their lives back. You should be able to go out and have lunch with family and friends instead of worrying when this will hit you because there is no ‘if’ – it’s ‘when,’” said a patient from the 2016 Canadian Gastrointestinal Society Survey.1
What can Functional Medicine practitioners do to improve the quality of life and clinical outcomes for these patients? The Functional Medicine model for health care is to understand the underlying factors that contribute to dysfunction and apply treatments that address those causes. In other words, Functional Medicine is concerned less with what we call the dysfunction or disease, and more about the dynamic processes that resulted in the person’s dysfunction.8 While IBS can seem like an intractable problem to patients, many modifiable factors can influence it, including eating habits, diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors such as stress.7
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