This isn’t my usual literary subject – there’s no poetry in what follows.
Friends may have have noticed (but been too polite to mention it) that I sometimes have to leave events and meetings early, saying that I feel unwell.
I’ve never written about this before, but that fact is that I suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome – have done all my life. Back in 1968 I was so badly affected over a long period that I had hospital investigations, by sigmoidoscope and barium enema – both uncomfortable procedures. They confirmed that a section of my colon was subject to constriction. From time to time the muscles around this part of the intestine contract and lock in a spasm. The effect is to try to force the contents of the colon – at that point mostly liquid – out by the usual route. It’s painful, and painfully embarrassing. When it hits me I just have to find a toilet. I can’t predict when these attacks will come on, and I usually don’t get much warning. The frequency of attacks varies, mostly these days it’s around twice a month, but in the past it has sometimes been more frequent, sometimes less. Where it hits me is another variable, and getting an IBS spasm while driving is probably the worst time – excruciating and desperate.
What causes it? Well, some of my family suffer too, so there’s clearly a genetic factor involved. There may also be a psychological component, although it seems to me that I have as many attacks when I’m unstressed as when I’m stressed. There’s definitely a dietary factor, and some current research suggests that a faulty digestive enzyme might be involved. It’s certainly true that some foods will exacerbate the condition. I love bread, preferably freshly baked crusty stuff, but I’ve come to realise relatively recently that if I have more than one slice in a day I’ll have an IBS attack within 24 to 48 hours. The more ‘risen’ the bread, the stronger the effect, so a gluten intolerance may be a factor in my case. Spelt bread’s better (and I love the taste), but even here I can’t overindulge, and besides it’s hard to get hold of in this area. I’ve noticed when I’ve been in the East that I had no attacks, so maybe I should stick to rice.
Another trigger is, sadly, red wine, which I also love. One glass diluted with water is OK. Anything more and I’m off to the nearest loo.
The usual over the counter anti-spasmodic is loperamide, but over-use renders it ineffective. There are other treatments, but in the long term a change of diet may well be better for me. It’s something I’ve learned to live with, so maybe I can learn to live without bread, and wine.