Being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) should, in theory, be a source of relief.
After all, it means those worrying symptoms - like chronic diarrhoea or constipation, bloating, painful cramps after eating - are not down to anything sinister.
Unlike other conditions which may cause similar symptoms, like Crohn’s, coeliac disease or even cancer, IBS isn’t medically serious.
However, often in reality, far from being a relief, IBS can be a huge source of anxiety.
In a recent survey by Buscopan IBS Relief of 1,000 men and women with IBS, nearly a quarter admitted they worry about it up to 10 times a day and 35% said it made them stressed. Many felt embarrassed (41%), and some confessed to avoiding social occasions and eating out (24%).
More than half (56%) did not feel in control of their condition.
With this in mind, it’s little wonder IBS can cause such distress.
It’s believed that around 10-20% of the population experience IBS, though the true figure could be much higher. Symptoms usually first appear between the ages of 20 and 30, though it can occur at any age and may come and go in bouts.
Not only can symptoms be extremely uncomfortable, they can impact a person’s social life, relationships and even their work life.
Another factor is that an IBS diagnosis can often be perceived as a “fob off” - something GPs tell patients when they don’t believe their symptoms are serious enough to warrant referrals for more thorough tests.
If you Google symptoms like bloating and abdominal pain, you’ll be presented with a long list of frightening conditions; this can play on people’s minds if they don’t feel their doctors are really listening to them.
Dr Adam Stone, a consultant gastroenterologist at Nuffield Health Chichester Hospital, understands how this anxiety can arise.
“There’s no one diagnostic test whereby you can say, ‘This is IBS’,” Stone explains. “It’s very much a matter of excluding other things. And there’s a criteria of questions you can ask which will point us towards the diagnosis of IBS.”