It can be uncomfortable to talk about IBS, but doing so can help you find support and feel less alone. Deciding who to tell and how much to share can help get the conversation started.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the digestive tract. It’s common, affecting about 10%–15% of adults in the United States. Symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • cramping
  • bloating
  • changes in bowel movements

IBS-C is a subtype of IBS with constipation as the primary symptom. It’s estimated that 16% of adults in the United States deal with constipation. The actual number is probably much higher.

Three out of 5 adults with constipation have never talked with a healthcare professional about it. Even talking with a doctor about IBS is often avoided.

With so many people living with IBS-C, you would think that people would talk about it more. But when it comes to talking about digestive symptoms and bowel movements, there’s often a stigma. This needs to change.

It can be lonely living with a condition that affects your daily routine. It’s even worse when you feel like you can’t speak about it.

Here’s why and how to start the conversation about IBS-C.

IBS-C is a type of IBS with constipation as the primary symptom. Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements per week.

But IBS-C is more than just infrequent bowel movements. You may also deal with:

  • bloating
  • abdominal pain
  • feeling like you can’t fully empty your bowels
  • passing dry, hard stools

Treatment for IBS-C may include:

  • dietary changes, including adding more fiber and fluids
  • increasing physical activity
  • medications
  • bowel retraining
  • pelvic floor physiotherapy
  • mental health support

It’s not always clear what makes IBS symptoms worse, which can make it hard to predict when they’ll flare.

Despite IBS being a pretty common condition, many people don’t talk about it. But odds are that we all know several people who have IBS.

Why are bowel habits considered so taboo? Everyone poops. It’s a normal bodily function. Even someone without IBS has likely experienced symptoms such as abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea from time to time.

Many people were raised not to talk about such things, however. If you were taught that it’s rude to talk about your bowel function, it can feel really difficult to address it with others.

When we avoid talking about something, it can create feelings of shame. Shame can make us want to avoid others, making it even harder to talk about.

Living with IBS-C can impact your daily life. If you’ve had to work while dealing with pain and discomfort or miss school because of your symptoms, you’re not alone. In a study of people with IBS, almost 82% stated that their symptoms affected their ability to work.

But work isn’t the only area of life affected: Symptoms of IBS can interfere with all parts of life. Another survey of people with IBS-C showed that 40% agreed that symptoms prevented them from spending more time with friends and family. In the same survey, 66% of people living with IBS-C said symptoms get in the way of enjoying daily activities.

If you have IBS-C, it’s likely that you’ve missed work, canceled plans with friends, or had to adjust your expectations of what you could do in a day. There’s also a good chance that other people around you have done the same. If people don’t talk about these things, you may feel like you’re the only one dealing with them. In reality, you’re definitely not alone.

The more that people talk about life with IBS, the more normal it becomes. This creates opportunities for others to share their challenges and feel less alone.

As with any health or personal concerns, you’ll need to decide who you want to tell. Think about the people who mean the most to you.

Living with a chronic condition can feel lonely. It can make a difference to share your challenges with people who love you. Having people you can count on and who know what you’re dealing with can provide some comfort.

Consider what parts of your life IBS-C affects the most. If it’s tough for you to attend gatherings and events, it can help to have a safe person who knows. This may be a significant other or a close friend or family member.

At work, you can decide whether you want or need to talk with your manager. If you’re missing a lot of work because of your IBS-C, you may want to arrange a meeting with your manager.

If you feel like you could use some emotional support, consider if you have a close friend you could talk with. This person can be a good ally on rough days.

It’s important to talk about IBS-C and how it impacts your life. This can feel uncomfortable, but you may find that once you share your experience, you’ll feel better.

It can be helpful to decide ahead of time what you’ll say. Depending on who you’re talking with, what you say and the amount you share will be different.

If you’re talking with a manager, you don’t have to get into details. You can just let your manager know that you have a condition called IBS-C and that you’ve been having a flare lately. You can clearly explain how it’s been affecting your ability to work. You can also let your manager know whether there’s anything that could change in your work setting to support you.

If you talk about your IBS-C with a family member, friend, or significant other, you may want to share more. People who love you will want to know how they can support you. This may be a chance to educate loved ones about IBS-C. You can share how living with IBS-C has affected your daily routine and let loved ones know how they can help.

It’s important to remember that none of this is your fault. You did not ask for IBS. You did not cause this condition.

It can be helpful to consider how you’d respond to someone if they shared their diagnosis with you. It’s likely that you would want to help and learn more to support them. The people worth keeping in your life won’t judge you for something you can’t control.

Constipation and all the symptoms that go along with it are human experiences. They don’t need to be embarrassing or shameful. The more that IBS-C is talked about, the less shame there is to surround it.

How to deal with stigma

People with IBS may experience high levels of internalized stigma. This stigma comes from hearing negative ideas about the condition. When they start to believe that those ideas apply to themselves, it can affect their mental health.

Stigma is associated with more anxiety, depression, and lower quality of life. It also prevents people from talking about IBS-C and getting help and support.

Here are some ways we can all help reduce the stigma of living with IBS-C:

  • Talk about IBS-C and share your experience with others.
  • Remember that you’re not defined by your health condition.
  • Educate others about IBS-C.
  • Learn more about your condition and stay updated on treatments and research.
  • Seek medical care when you need it to normalize getting help with digestive symptoms.

IBS-C is a common digestive condition. Even though it affects many people, it’s not something that people often talk about. It can be uncomfortable to talk about bowel habits. This makes living with IBS-C even more isolating.

IBS-C can impact your personal and work life. It’s associated with high levels of anxiety and depression.

We need to talk about IBS-C for many reasons. Talking about something helps to reduce stigma and shame. When your loved ones know what you’re dealing with, you can feel better supported. Talking about IBS-C also lets other people know that they’re not alone. It opens the conversation for other people to seek support.