Campaigns and awareness Case studies Maggie: living with IBS Maggie Barker from Peterborough suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It means living with stomach pain and always watching what she eats. Here is her story. “I was in my 20s when I first became aware that I was getting a lot of stomach cramps and that perhaps it wasn’t normal. Most of the time I’d have terrible griping pains and diarrhoea and had to rush to the loo a lot. I’d maybe have a few weeks pain free, but generally it was part of my daily life. I didn’t really speak to anyone about it. It was the 1990s and we weren’t as open about health issues as we are now. Also, my husband had Crohn’s Disease and my problems seemed negligible in comparison with what he was going through. Our daughter was young and I was working full-time as a pharmacist so I put the relentless symptoms down to being tired. I tried lots of over-the-counter remedies. Then I finally went to my GP who said ‘you’ve got IBS – I’m afraid you’re going to have to live with it’ – so I did. I was given a variety of drugs and tried some homeopathic remedies but nothing had much effect. It was when I reached my 40s that the cramps and the urgency became more evident - they doubled in intensity. I was a teacher by then and it wasn’t easy to go to the toilet whenever I needed to. That led to another round of trying to do something about it. My GP tried to help but there was still not much out there in the way of effective drugs. There was, however, lots of dietary advice. I tried the FODMAP diet which was really helpful. And over time I developed an awareness of what would cause problems. I can’t eat green vegetables, legumes, fruit or too much fat. At Christmas there are no roast potatoes, no pork crackling and no Christmas pudding. I can never eat onions. If I eat bread, I know I’ll have to pay for it later. I can eat mashed potatoes but minus the butter and cream. A treat would be some nice baked salmon, followed by granola with a few fruit flakes and some yoghurt. My diet is a balancing act – if I eat a piece of fruit cake, I have to be very sensible for the rest of the day. Generally it’s better to eat smaller meals more often. Going out for a meal has its restrictions. Chinese and Indian food is too spicy and lots of food has hidden fat. But most restaurants these days are pretty understanding. What’s most important for IBS sufferers is finding out what triggers your symptoms. It’s a lifelong condition and it’s different for everyone, so the only way to deal with it is to experiment and discover what works for you. If you don’t gain some kind of control, you can easily find yourself in a vicious circle of eating comfort food, getting ill, eating more comfort food and going into a downward spiral which affects your mental health. It’s essential to have the support and understanding of your family. As well as my husband and daughter, I have my lovely assistance dog Angus who keeps me sane. When I was first diagnosed, there was much less research being done. That’s beginning to change - I’m now participating in drug trial. Knowledge is improving all the time. Let’s hope that continues. Maggie kindly shared her story with us for our #GiftsforyourGut campaign this Christmas. We want to raise awareness of the struggles that people with bowel conditions face over Christmas and aim to help them with our alternative, gut-friendly Christmas dinner. Click here to read more.