Managing your IBS-D
Managing IBS as a Family
Having a close relative with IBS makes you more likely to get it. Read about one family dealing with two cases of IBS and how they help each other.
By Krisha McCoy
Medically Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
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Although researchers haven’t yet located specific genes that put you at risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), genetics may play a part. That may explain why IBS runs through some families. Despite the digestion difficulties, family members who share IBS and its symptoms can be more effective managing it because they can take a team approach.
Jeffrey Roberts, MSEd, Msc, founder of the IBS Self Help and Support Group, was diagnosed with IBS by his family physician when he was around 16 years old. Jeffrey is now 52 and, while treatment has helped alleviate some of his symptoms, he still experiences weekly IBS flares.
Jeffrey describes being doubtful about his own diagnosis at first. “I was dismissive about the diagnosis because I couldn’t understand how the abdominal pain and bouts of diarrhea could be caused by something called IBS,” he said. “I felt that it had to be something more life-threatening like cancer. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I accepted the diagnosis and seriously tried to treat it.”
Five years ago, his daughter, then 17, was diagnosed with IBS after she had a serious infection from dental surgery that was treated with antibiotics.
“It has only been in the last 10 years or so that the doctors now recognize a diagnosis of post-infectious IBS (PI-IBS),” Jeffrey said. He suspects that his IBS may have also developed after being prescribed antibiotics.
“Although doctors are careful when prescribing antibiotics now because of drug resistance, in the 1960s and '70s, when I was a child, I was prescribed antibiotics fairly often,” he said.
Jeffrey said that his daughter accepted her diagnosis more readily than he had his own. “Our daughter was diagnosed with IBS by a pediatric gastroenterologist,” he said. “We immediately accepted that diagnosis, given my own history and understanding of the disorder.”
Sharing an IBS Diagnosis
“There seems to be multiple possible gene changes [in IBS],” said Patricia Raymond, MD, of Gastrointestinal Consults Ltd. in Virginia Beach, Va., and assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk.
When you have IBS, your first-degree relatives (parents, children, and siblings) are two to three times as likely to have IBS as the general population. Having multiple family members with IBS presents its own set of challenges as well as benefits.
Though Jeffrey and his daughter both have IBS, symptoms can vary greatly from one person to another, so their symptoms are not exactly alike.
“My daughter’s IBS is more mild-to-moderate whereas mine is moderate-to-severe,” Jeffrey said. “Treatment is quite different.”
Both Jeffrey and his daughter have benefited from using daily probiotics, so the family doubles up on the quantity of probiotics purchased as part of their treatment plan.
“Other than that,” Jeffrey said, “our symptoms and flares do not necessarily come at the same time.”
The Advantages of Family Support
The benefit of having two members of a household who have IBS is that there is a built-in support system.
“Because IBS symptoms wax and wane, having someone who understands the quality of life issues surrounding IBS really helps validate the illness,” Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey said he and his daughter use each other as a sounding board to determine when IBS symptoms are an actual flareup or if they could be another illness like food poisoning or a stomach bug.
They go to different doctors, which he said is a good idea for families who are dealing with multiple diagnoses of IBS.
“It has been a benefit having two doctors treating our IBS symptoms because we get to evaluate more treatment options,” Jeffrey said.
In the end, their illness has brought Jeff and his daughter closer. “There is a definite bond between my daughter and me because of this,” he added.
When Multiple Family Members Have IBS
According to Dr. Raymond, it is not unusual for a couple of family members to have IBS, but if you have a strong family history of IBS, that could be a sign that you may actually have another condition.
“We do think that there probably is a genetic component [in IBS], but it’s not as strong as a component as in other conditions,” Raymond said.
When Raymond encounters an IBS patient with many family members who have similar IBS-like symptoms, she assesses that patient to be sure that IBS wasn’t misdiagnosed for celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, both of which have strong genetic components.
“Up to a third of people with IBS actually have celiac disease instead,” she said.
So if IBS symptoms seem to run strongly in your family, talk with your doctor to make sure your diagnosis is correct.
Video: Health Chat: IBS and Digestive Health
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