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What it Feels Like to Have an IBS Flare

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Grab a peppermint tea, snuggle up to your hot water bottle and pop that top jean button because I’m about to share the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to having an IBS flare. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Over the past three weeks my IBS has been all over the place. I had a stomach bug which has kicked my gut health to the floor and seen several flares completely stop me in my tracks. I figured it was about time to share the nitty-gritty of how it feels to have an attack. You ready for this?

The Gurgles
For me, this is how it usually starts. A couple of suspicious gurgles followed by a couple of growls and the horrendous feeling of my stomach dropping.

The Anxiety
Enter stage two, the anxiety. The sheer panic that I need to get my ass to a bathroom immediately, no matter what. My heart will be beating out of my chest. My forehead will be hot and clammy. I won’t be able to focus on anything until I’m sat on the throne.

If I’m not in the comfort of my own home, I’ll panic about where to go. Can I find a public toilet in enough time? If I’m on the train – which has NO loos – will I make it home in time or will I embarrass myself? If a flare happens in the evening, will I be able to go to work in the morning?

My head will be a buzzing nightmare, circulating all of the negative thoughts continually.

The Stomach Cramps
They will start immediately and they won’t stop until the next day, at varying degrees of pain and intensity.

I can only describe the cramps as having something pushed into your intestines and then having that slowly twisted and twisted. It leaves me doubled over in agony and nothing really helps relieve them.

The Bloating
During a flare my tummy will bloat to resemble a 6-month pregnant lady. It will turn my stomach hard, uncomfortable and painful to touch.

I’ll only be able to wear pyjamas with an elasticated waist that allow my stomach to stretch as it grows.

The Evacuation
It’s worth noting that I have IBS-D which means that I suffer from diarrhoea rather than the constipation that comes with IBS-C. My movements will be urgent, immediate and sometimes uncontrollable. My stools will be loose and often followed by a lot of liquid. I often struggle with the sense of not fully evacuating my bowels and know that when I have a flare I normally have a wave of two of these urgent movements.

There’s also a sense of dread, knowing that it’ll happen again, so I’m often unable to relax until it has. That can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the severity of the flare.

Note that I will always have a magazine or a book my bathroom at home as it helps pass the time and distract my anxious mind.

The Extreme Lethargy
Flares leave me feeling so drained that all I can do is crawl back to bed, grabbing my hot water bottle on the way, and try to fall back to sleep.

I’ll feel so exhausted I won’t be able to move, string a sentence together or make any attempt to get dressed.

This feeling will continue into the next day with me ensuring I try to take self-care seriously and indulge in whatever I need to do to rebuild my energy.

The Loss of Appetite
My stomach will be super sensitive in the time after a flare so it’s important I strictly avoid any trigger food and follow the Low-FODMAP diet, eating little and often to help build my strength back up.

The Sensitive Stomach
After a flare I’ll be left with a dull ache in my stomach that I won’t be able to shift for a couple of days. I’ll wear clothes that don’t dig into my stomach and that run oversize, to allow my body to return to some sort of normal.

The Sense of Defeat
I can’t lie, 12 years on and I still struggle with a massive feeling of defeat after a flare. It’s physically and mentally draining and if I can’t pin point what kicked it all off, I end up feeling even more bloody frustrated.

The Disruption
Here’s the kicker. My IBS will have me cancel all my plans. Over the years I’ve missed out on dinners with friends, birthday parties, weddings, day trips and family days.

My friends are used to me not being able to make firm plans these days as it’ll all depend on how stable my stomach’s feeling. I’m the girl who has to text last-minute, dropping out of whatever plans I made when I was feeling normal. It can be soul destroying as you constantly feel like you’re letting people down. Thankfully those closest know – and if they didn’t before, they will after reading this! – and understand that sometimes I can’t leave the bathroom, let alone the house.

There you have it, exactly what I experience every time I have a flare. This will be different for everyone and for the different strains of IBS. The biggest thing to remember is to look after yourself and listen to your body. You know best.

Still sitting comfortably? Go ahead and read more about IBS and my gut health.

4 Comments

  1. I am 2.5 months into the worst flare-up I’ve had in years, and this is so much what’s going on with me, I literally put it on my Pinterest board called Autobiographical – not even Health! And yes I did miss out on something this weekend – a meetup with a group of people that I truly love, a summer get-together on this past Saturday … when I realized it was going to be in a park (I’m not talking a city park, but one of the National Parks, where you need to have a pass to get in, or pay at the gate, so we were supposed to meet-up at someone’s house and cram into the vehicles of the passholders) – between that, and wonky public bathrooms, I was discouraged and actually upset that I had to send my regrets – WELL! Let me tell you what happened! Almost everyone went to go on a nature trail hike before the food … except for my friend Rod, who has fibromyalgia – hes a guy well over six feet, big-boned, used to restore houses – the physical labor part of it… Had I been there, I would have been sitting with Rod and gabbing up a storm! Rod was there, instead, solo, when – a huge, growling, paw-waving, bear crashed violently into the camp! Rod ran for his pickup truck, as the bear proceeded to eat every last scrap of food (cooked or not) and make a tornado out of the place ;- I said sincerely & honestly to my friends that this was about the only time I can recall actually being GRATEFUL for having an IBS attack!!!

    Reply

    • Oh Jeannee, a 2.5 month flare sounds horrendous. I hope you’re ok and getting lots of rest! It truly sucks when you miss out on events you desperately wanted to go on but can’t because of your temperamental gut. I’m trying to stop beating myself up about it as I find it makes it worse. Wow! Now that is a story! And yes, for that one time, lucky you weren’t there!!!!

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  2. I’m with you sister, IBS flare ups are the actual worst 🙅🏼 but you’ve proven again that you can get through it as you’re strong! Thank you for the honest post here Jo – I know I’ll reach for it when I have my next flare up for reassurance that I’m not on my own. Keep going girl, you’re beyond fabulous 😘❤️ X

    Reply

    • Hey Charlotte! You are so bloody supportive, thank you! That’s the most important thing, knowing that you’re not the only one. I’m always here to digitally hold your hand!!! Xx

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