April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month. IBS affects, depending on the source, at least 25 million and perhaps up to 58 million women, men and children in the United States and anywhere from 9-23% of the population in different countries on every continent of the world. In the U.S, this prevalence exceeds that of diabetes, chronic kidney disease, asthma, adults with chronic heart disease, and, by far, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), with which IBS is often confused. IBS Impact stands in solidarity with what Olafur Palsson, PsyD, full professor and leading researcher at the University of North Carolina Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders once estimated as half a billion people with IBS around the globe. As noted in the January 10, 2012 post on this blog, in 2011, a Rome Foundation working team estimated that 40% of us are mildly affected, 35% moderately affected and 25% severely affected, with the last two groups significantly larger than that same group of professionals had previously thought.
Unlike awareness weeks and months for these and other common health conditions, it is often difficult to know this unless one follows certain IBS sites, but as time goes on, awareness gradually increases. In 2012, this blog first published a version of this post as “10 Things We Can Do for IBS Awareness This Month and Every Month,” which remains one of the most popular single posts in the history of this blog. That post has been revised and updated as needed every year since. Here are 10 possible strategies for how people with IBS in any country can increase awareness of IBS. Readers of this blog who are relatives and friends, with the permission of the person with IBS, feel free to help the cause too.
1) If they do not already know, talk to your family, friends, coworkers, classmates and medical providers about IBS. Having IBS is often an isolating experience, and some people with IBS who have “come out of the closet” have found that the stress of hiding and worrying about who knew and how much they knew actually triggered worse symptoms. No, not everyone will “get it” and that can be hurtful or tiring, but people without IBS will never learn to understand unless we are willing to tell them. Some of them will help you and it may be the people you least expect. Given that IBS is the most common functional gastrointestinal disorder with prevalence anywhere from 9-23% in different countries worldwide, it’s very likely that some people you tell will also have IBS or loved ones with IBS. The IBS Impact main website has an entire page of articles specifically for family and friends. Many past posts on this blog are also tagged for this subject, and can be found by using the search box on the right sidebar.
2) If you find the IBS Impact website or blog or any other reputable IBS site useful and interesting, share it with your family and friends, other people with IBS and your health care providers, especially those not currently active in the IBS community. Knowledge is power. The more people who have good information and resources rather than outdated misconceptions and quacks, the better off we will be as individuals and as a group. IBS Impact also posts to its Twitter and Facebook pages several times month with scientifically reputable articles, resource links, clinical trial and advocacy opportunities and encouragement from sources all over the globe. If you use these social media platforms, your likes, comments and shares are a quick and low-effort way to participate in IBS awareness and spread the word very quickly.
3) If you’re not comfortable being public, you can still quietly distribute information in public places. IBS Impact has business cards with our logo available free for the asking. IFFGD/the Digestive Health Alliance has free downloadable awareness posters and other resources. The Irritable Bowel Syndrome Self Help and Support Group online forum based in Canada that draws visitors from many countries worldwide, has a downloadable brochure in English explaining IBS to those who do not have it, with translations in Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Swedish and German on the website. The Gastrointestinal Society, also in Canada, distributes free information packets and pamphlets that can be ordered online and mailed to addresses within Canada. The IBS Network in the United Kingdom also offers a variety of IBS fact sheets to its paid members. Leave these materials in public displays or bulletin boards in community centers, libraries, medical offices and hospitals, pharmacies, banks, post offices, college campuses, wherever many people go every day.
4) Volunteer to share your story on the IBS Impact sites by using the contact links on the main website. We welcome diverse perspectives from people with IBS and their families and friends, and hope to be welcoming guest bloggers this month. Because IBS Impact encourages greater openness about IBS, we prefer to be able to post at least your first name and country of residence. IFFGD also accepts personal stories for its websites, anonymously or with names. IFFGD also occasionally quotes people with IBS in its publications.
5) Interact with the media. When there is coverage of IBS-related topics in mainstream print or broadcast stories or blogs, send or post your comments and corrections. This lets the media and other readers, viewers or listeners know we are out here as a community and that we care about how IBS is portrayed. IFFGD occasionally gets requests from the media to interview affected people. If you are interested, let IFFGD know that it can contact you. The IBS Network also sometimes publicizes requests from UK-specific media. For a past discussion of the media and IBS, see the November 6, 2011 post. Read about an advocacy success with a major U.S. media outlet in the January 20, 2014 blog post.
6) Participate in a research study so that scientists become more aware of our needs. Some studies are online or through the mail or phone. We regularly list some open studies on this blog, and on the main website, and/or share them on social media, and many of the resources we link do as well.
7) IBS Impact is not a charity, but consider donating to one of the GI-related organizations or research facilities in your country. Many are listed on our links and research pages of the main site. It is very important for all non-profits to show that they are supported by their own constituency (the people whom they represent) when they approach other funding sources. It is true that many IBSers don’t have a lot of money to spare, but even small amounts help. A few years ago, one person with IBS stated that if every person with IBS in just the U.S, the U.K. and Australia alone committed a dollar or pound a month, we’d have over a billion a year. If you’d like, have a fundraiser. IFFGD and other charitable organizations are generally glad to assist their supporters in these efforts. For more on why financial support to IBS entities is important, see this July 22, 2011 post and its August 25, 2014 followup.
8) If you absolutely cannot donate directly, use Goodsearch (in the U.S.) or iGive (in the U.S. or Canada) or Everyclick (in the U.K.) as your search engines or online shopping portals on behalf of the gastrointestinal charity of your choice. These sites all work slightly differently, but participating merchants designate percentages of each transaction to specific organizations you indicate. It doesn’t look like much each time, but the amount adds up if you use them consistently. Nothing extra comes out of your own pocket, and the charities do get the money.
9) Write to legislators or policy makers to support issues of importance to the IBS community. IFFGD can help U.S. citizens with current U.S. legislation of concern to functional GI and motility disorders. If you prefer not to go through that organization, you can do so yourself. Often there are separate state issues as well, which, when possible, we attempt to publicize on this blog. The IBS Network occasionally posts U.K. specific advocacy on its website and social media.
10) If you’re ambitious, organize an awareness event, especially those of you who are students or health professionals. Talk to a health professions class or go to a health fair. For another discussion of why IBS awareness is important, see this July 9, 2011 post. GI organizations, including the ones listed above, are often happy to assist their supporters with grassroots efforts if desired.
There are many more than 10 possible ways to advance the cause of IBS awareness worldwide. IBS Impact was founded on the belief that awareness is an ongoing process that should not just happen one month a year, so don’t just restrict yourself to April. But every action, small or large, multiplied by many people with IBS and our supporters moves us closer to a time when IBS is widely understood by the general public and when the medical and social needs of people with IBS as a community can be more easily met.