U.K. Researcher Studies the History of IBS and Why We Should Be Interested

The following interesting post appeared recently on the blog of the Wellcome Trust, a London-based organization that describes itself as a global charity focused on the history of medicine.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The History of a Modern Epidemic  

(edited to fix broken link. Thanks to alert readers for mentioning this.)

The author is Dr. Val Harrington, PhD, of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester. Dr. Harrington received a Wellcome Trust grant for post-doctoral research in this area. Although the disorder currently known as IBS occurs worldwide and symptom clusters consistent with it appeared in medical literature well prior to the earliest time period of Dr. Harrington’s research, Dr. Harrington plans to focus on the most recent 50 years in the United Kingdom. According to the post, this is an intentional decision to bring some balance to a field that Dr. Harrington states has been primarily centered on research from the United States.

Dr. Harrington will use archival sources, as well as oral history from gastroenterologists, researchers, primary physicians and patient support groups to trace and delve into several themes. Part of the research will involve a case study of the IBS Network, formerly the Gut Trust, the national organization for irritable bowel syndrome in the U.K.

The vast majority of research on IBS thus far appears to have been of the medical model, focused on causes of IBS and how to treat it effectively. This is, of course, of major concern to many of us with IBS  who are not helped adequately by existing interventions. However, discussions of the historical and sociological aspects of IBS are also important and less recognized by people with IBS, medical professionals, policy makers and the general public alike. The founder of IBS Impact, in starting an advocacy and awareness-focused resource, was influenced and motivated by personal and professional experience in other health and disability advocacy communities in the U.S. The lessons that can be gleaned from our peers in those communities  are the philosophical beliefs that long term changes to “the system” for all people with IBS and others who support us require understanding IBS in its historical and sociological context as a phenomenon that affects society and requires the cooperation of many subsets of society to work toward scientific and social solutions. IBS is not always simply a personal medical problem; when moderate or severe, it can affect every aspect of an individual’s life and many aspects of the lives of those around the person with IBS. Multiplied by millions of people with IBS around any one nation, let alone the globe, it becomes society’s challenge.

Readers of this blog in any country, do take a look at Dr. Harrington’s fascinating comments. Specifically those in the U.K., also be on the alert for any future announcements within the U.K. from the University of Manchester, the Wellcome Trust, or the IBS Network or any related media coverage. Perhaps there will be opportunities for you to participate in this important research.


  1. Gina Hollingworth

    I have had severe IBS for over 25 years. I am now at age 49, incontinent. Despite much medical intervention, my daily life is blighted by what most people think is just an upset tummy. I am now facing sacral modulation to attempt to control my incontinence. Yet never once have I been tested for food intolerence. I have lost faith in the NHS’ ability to treat this illness.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment on this blog, Gina. Sorry that you are struggling, as have many of us with IBS. If there are specific issues with the NHS or other systems within the U.K. that you or other readers feel need awareness, advocacy and change, feel free to share that feedback. Most IBS Impact members at this time are in the U.S., but we do have some from several other countries and it is the intention of the founder and the webmaster to have our resources be useful to as many people as possible in various locations.

  3. Gillian

    I have autoimmune hypothyroiditis diagnosed in 2009 and suddenly developed IBS symptoms in February 2012, after 3 months of the unpleasant symptoms I implemented a gluten-free and dairy-free diet and am now almost symptom free. With this diet my migraines have also disappeared though I occaisionally have a recurrance of symptoms if I eat something ‘contaminated’. I am now considering giving up grains entirely. I am convinced that a large number of illnesses have their origins in our present day diet and the contamination of our food with pesticides and other chemicals.

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