April is IBS Awareness Month – What you might not know about IBS

Published on: 04/10/2021

The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) declared April “IBS Awareness Month” in 1997. This time of the year, we focus attention on important health messages about IBS.

This disorder is unfortunately still overlooked or not recognized as “real” by many people (including some physicians).

Yet, so many people around the world are affected and the symptoms are real! To help increase awareness, I have dedicated today’s blog to some lesser-known facts about IBS.

What you might not know about IBS

  • IBS is estimated to affect 10-15% of the population in the US (between 25 and 45 million people), and 7-15% of people worldwide.
  • Only 5-7% of IBS sufferers have been diagnosed with the disease (side note: IBS can only be diagnosed by a medical professional).⁠
  • IBS is the most common disease diagnosed by gastroenterologists and one of the most common disorders seen by primary care physicians. In a survey, nearly 2,000 IBS patients reported it took on average 6.6 years to be diagnosed after the symptoms began.⁠
  • IBS runs in the family. Those with a relative with IBS are twice as likely to have IBS than those without.⁠
  • Although IBS affects people of all ages and genders, 2 out of 3 sufferers are women. Most people are diagnosed before the age of 50. Still, many older adults suffer as well (I see this in my practice! Most of my clients are women and I have seen people of ages ranging from 23 to 82!).
  • IBS can severely impact the quality of life. IBS patients have lower measures of physical, social, and emotional well-being than healthy people or those with other chronic illnesses.
  • Due to the severity of symptoms, people mostly report IBS affecting their ability to leave their homes, go to school or perform their job. In a 2009 survey, IBS patients reported restricting activities on average 20% of days (73) in a year.
  • In an international survey of ~2,000 people with IBS, sufferers said they would give up 25% of their remaining life (10-15 years), in exchange for a treatment that would make them symptom-free.
  • The cost of IBS is high. Direct costs of IBS have been estimated to be approximately $1.5 billion and as high as $10 billion in adjusted costs (excluding the costs of prescription and over-the-counter drugs). Indirect costs, including missed work and decreased work productivity, of IBS have been estimated as high as $20 billion annually based only on IBS patients who sought medical attention.
  • In research studies, a low FODMAP diet has been shown to benefit 75% of people who tried it. Improvements are seen as early as within one week and persist long-term with a personalized (not as restrictive) version of the diet.
  • IBS is a chronic condition and there is no “cure” but symptoms can be managed with a variety of tools. With good management strategies, some people can improve to the point of not meeting the diagnostic criteria anymore. A multidisciplinary approach, addressing diet, stress, lifestyle, and medications, is ideal for achieving the best and most lasting results.  

Help me spread the word by sharing this blog with someone you know, even though they don’t have IBS – they might know someone who does.

Want to learn more?

Check out more IBS Diet Basics

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I’m a registered dietitian with a passion for helping women with IBS find their way back to eating without fear of painful gut symptoms and without unnecessary diet restrictions.

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