Irritable Bowel Syndrome, otherwise known as IBS, is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the world. Despite this, it's not that commonly talked about — probably because it contains the word "bowel" which makes people think of poo and go all awkward. I was diagnosed with IBS last year after a series of GP appointments that weren't particularly fruitful. I was told the bare minimum about my condition which made it really hard to manage it, so here's a list of things that I wish I'd known sooner.

1. People don't tend to take it seriously enough

Hannah Allaway

My IBS diagnosis came after having tests done which ruled out pretty much every other disorder that could have thrown up my symptoms. When the doctor relayed the news, his words were "it's probably just IBS". I was almost disappointed in my diagnosis, as "just IBS" didn't seem to explain how severe my abdominal cramps had been or the fact that I struggled a lot with fatigue. I often find myself bent over double or curled up on the sofa, physically unable to move due to my "just IBS". 

2. Periods + IBS = @&!%$£

Heema Gokani

My worst symptom of IBS was severe abdominal cramps. Combine that with period cramps and curling up in bed with a hot water bottle seems like putting a plaster on a broken bone. One of the main features of IBS is interesting stool changes, and if you think pooping while you're on your period is bad, you should try it with IBS

3. It's a chronic illness, but people don't seem to realise that

Hannah Allaway

IBS is defined as "chronic", aka long-term. To be diagnosed, you must have had symptoms for a minimum of three months. For most people with IBS, it's a lifelong condition, which, to put it bluntly, really sucks. However, it's not regarded with the same kind of weighting or severity as most other chronic illnesses, so IBS sufferers are often just expected to "get past it".

4. Sticking to an IBS-friendly diet is hard work

Hannah Allaway

I maintain a mostly low FODMAP diet, but more frequently than not, I indulge in too much chocolate and/or pizza. Sticking to an IBS-friendly diet is really difficult, especially if, like me, you've gone from never having an allergy to having several kind-of-but-not-quite-intolerances at once. Sometimes, I chase off-plan foods down with my medicines; sometimes, I cross my fingers and hope for the best. Neither is the best idea.

5. Stress is a killer

Mun Ling Koh

I can't lie, I was warned about this one quite early on, but I didn't realise the exact extent of just how much of an impact my stress levels could have on my physical health. I should have picked up on it sooner: the first two excruciatingly painful episodes of IBS that I experienced just happened coincide with my two sets of end-of-year exams. Since then, I've found that whilst I can sometimes convince my brain that I'm not drowning in stress, my body isn't easily fooled. I have to be more careful with foods during stressful periods and make an effort to actually chill out!

6. You're not alone

Mun Ling Koh

IBS is more common than people realise. There's a whole community of low-FODMAP-pers on Instagram, and everyone has a tip or two that they've picked up on their journey which they're more than willing to share.