IBS at work: limiting your potential and productivity?

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If you have IBS and you also have a job, then you know what a pain it can be to try to combine the two.  IBS is a chronic ailment with a variety of symptoms, including pain, stool frequency alterations, mucus, bloating, distension, nausea, fatigue and more, according to the Rome II criteria.1  If you’re a non-sufferer, then I’m sure you can easily imagine how such a condition might lead to you not performing at your peak potential at work.  In a 2009 study by Ringstrom et al, the authors asserted, based on a review of cited works, that ‘many IBS patients experience disabling symptoms and negative interference in daily life’.2  For many sufferers, living life to the fullest – and giving your peak performance at work – must seem like something of an unattainable dream.  How can an IBS sufferer get past the symptoms to really commit herself to her job?

Based on personal experience, I think the first and most important step is to choose your career, and then your specific job, with extreme care.  Some careers, and some jobs, are just going to be more demanding, and less adaptable to the vagaries of a chronic condition, than others.  Probably the next most important thing is to make sure that a) you get a doctor’s advice regarding your condition, and then b) you act on it!  

Once in your chosen workplace, you need to think about your options should your condition result in a need for more breaks than usual, perhaps being slightly less reliable than colleagues and with the odd attendance glitch.  Applying this to my college days, I did personally find that it was necessary to make up for my ‘imperfections’ as a student by putting more hours in.  I might have missed the odd class and needed frequent breaks due to IBS symptoms and fatigue.  However I made up for this by basically considering myself permanently ‘on-duty’ for studying.  If I was awake and not ‘on a break’, then I was on duty! And eventually this paid off when I graduated with honours.  Life is so not fair, and sometimes you just have to do a little more and work a little harder!  

Over time you may find certain adaptations and modifications of your lifestyle that work for you and help you manage your symptoms.  Perhaps these may be related to diet or exercise, relaxation techniques, counselling or whatever works for you.  Anything that helps is good, even if there’s a psychosomatic component!  If so, you may want to let friends at work in on these tips and practices, so they can encourage you to maintain a good practice if they see you slipping.  

In the end, if you have a chronic condition, then it’s a known quantity that you’re just going to have to work around.  Don’t let it discourage you – throw everything you have at it and persevere in order to triumph!

1. Tresca, A.J. http://ibdcrohns.about.com/cs/ibs/a/romecriteria.htm. 2003.
2. Gisela and Magnus Simren. “Development of an educational intervention for patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – a pilot study..” BMC Gastroenterology 9 (February 2009): 10+.


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