IBS in the Workplace: Breaking the Stigma

Dealing with a chronic health issue can be a challenge for anyone, but the symptoms associated with IBS can lead to some particularly uncomfortable situations  – especially when it comes to work and your career.

Imagine having to sit through long meetings or conference calls while dealing with severe abdominal pain, or how difficult it is to stay focused and be productive if, as many people with IBS can attest to, you have to run to the bathroom once every hour (or more frequently in some cases).

IBS can even keep people from getting to work in the first place. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders found that “IBS is the second leading cause of work absenteeism (second only to the common cold)”, with about 30% of IBS patients missing an average of 1 day of work per month because of their symptoms.

IBS can affect patients’ career choices, too, choosing to pass over promotions or taking steps to advance their careers out of fear that their symptoms will ultimately hold them back. One survey of IBS patients even found that 1 out of 13 people are not able to work at all because of their symptoms.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.


Recognize You’re Not Alone

Approximately ten to fifteen percent of the US population suffers from IBS and, according to a survey by the American Gastrointestinal Association, 48 percent of IBS sufferers said their disease made them “self-conscious”, and thirty-nine percent said it made them “embarrassed.”

Feeling embarrassed about your symptoms can obviously make it hard hard to confide in your manager or coworkers about your condition, but being open about your condition and helping people understand how it affects you at work could start a conversation about certain accommodations – like working from home, for instance – so you can minimize the impact on your work and ultimately be more productive.  

An open discussion about your symptoms could go a long way towards easing some of the anxiety you might feel while at work, and since stress has been shown to exacerbate symptoms related to IBS it may just help you feel a little better, too.


Partner With Your Doctor to Develop a Long-Term Treatment Plan

Another challenge many people with IBS face is getting their doctor or healthcare provider to take their symptoms seriously. A 2017 survey of more than 500 patients with IBS, 32 percent agreed with the statement “healthcare professionals don’t take IBS seriously.”

IBS can be frustrating to some clinicians, because of its seemingly vague symptoms make it difficult to diagnose—isn’t everyone bloated and gassy sometimes?—and there’s no pill or other easy treatment to prescribe. But that’s no excuse for ignoring a problem that causes people to restrict personal and professional activities an estimated 73 days out of each year.

Our SmartGut microbiome test may be one way to address this issue, and help your healthcare provider take your symptoms more seriously by looking at them through a different lens.

By analyzing your microbiome – the unique collection of trillions of bacteria that reside in your gut – you and your doctor can get valuable insights to better understand what’s going on inside your gut, and detect possible pathogens associated with chronic gut conditions like IBS. Armed with this information, you and your doctor can take the steps you need to make you feel better in the long term.

If you are seeking strategies toward dealing with IBS in the workplace, it can be important to find ways to receive support from your co-workers and managers, to find ways manage stress and anxiety which can exacerbate symptoms, and seek treatment for symptoms so that their impact on the workday is minimized as much as possible.  

Click here to learn more about how uBiome’s clinical SmartGut test can help you and your healthcare provider learn more about IBS symptoms.