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IBS and advice for family members and friends

  • IBS is a highly variable condition, with substantial differences in the extent to which it impinges on the lives of family members
  • Effective and compassionate communication is essential to allow individuals with IBS to express and, when needed, discuss their concerns, feeling, and thoughts
  • Sometimes it can be very difficult for individuals with an illness to talk about what they are experiencing; trying to focused a discussion about illness or how they feel can be counterproductive
  • Sometimes just ‘being there’ (e.g., going to the hospital with them, being there when they meet their doctor, checking up on them when in hospital) for individuals with IBS is very helpful
  • Family members without IBS can also often feel anxiety, frustration and distress with regard witnessing what a family member with IBS is going through
  • If you have questions or concerns about how you are coping with living with a family member or friend with IBS, feel free to talk to your doctor, psychologist and/or local IBS association

Nothing you did or said caused IBS

Supporting someone with IBS can be challenging and most loved ones want to do anything to help and they might put their own feeling and needs aside. Doing this for a short period of time might be okay but it’s essential that loved ones look after their own needs and take care of themselves.

If you don’t is can lead to feeling exhausted, unwell and depression and anxiety in the carer. You will experience some role changes in the relationship. For example at time the carer may need to do more around the house, or be the driver. It is important to notice these changes and ask for help and know that it is okay for you to say NO.

Family members without IBS can also often feel anger anxiety, frustration and distress guilt with regard witnessing what a family member with IBS is going through. Is okay to cry, to talk to someone about how you feel and let go of mistakes (if I did this, I should do that) and make sure you put some energy aside for the things you enjoy.

Questions you may want to ask doctors

  • What caused IBS?
  • What makes it worse?
  • What are the treatments?
  • What are the side effects of treatments?
  • How do I know if my loved ones need immediate medical attention?
  • Will they need to follow a special diet?
  • What can I do to help?

Communicating about IBS

Sometime people with IBS don’t want to talk about their illness and symptoms and at other times they do. It’s important to let them take the communicative lead. Important to let the person with IBS know that you care, love them, that they are not a burden and that you are there for them.

Be cautious of advice giving. The person with IBS usually has been given advice by a number of health professionals and lots of other people about all sorts of things from diet, to medical treatment to complementary treatments.

If someone is going through a flare up asking a non-specific question like “what is it I can do to help” might put additional pressure on the person with IBS because they might be struggling to make decisions. It might be more helpful to offer specific things to help. “how about I cook dinner on Wednesday and Friday this week” or I do the shopping on Saturday morning for you?

It’s okay to also keep the conversation light at times. Sometime especially during a flare up its hard for patients to hear about more world disasters or about someone else’s illness. It’s okay to talk about something you did, or the person’s interests or the latest social gossip.

Sometimes it’s also okay not to talk and just sit with the person especially if they have just had surgery and have not got the energy for conversation.


If you are interested in other gastrointestinal-focused information and intervention websites developed and hosted at
Swinburne University of Technology,
please go to:

IBDclinic.org.au for individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Gastroparesisclinic.org for individuals with Gastroparesis


This website and its content is not intended or recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions.

© 2014 Swinburne University of Technology | CRICOS number 00111D