The Best Things to Say to a Person Who Has IBS

How to Be Helpful

two men talking Images

Do you know someone who has IBS? I am guessing that you want to be of help, but maybe are afraid of saying the wrong thing. Good for you for caring!

Due to long-held and unfair stigma, people who have IBS often have a sensitivity about their symptoms that is not seen with other chronic health problems. Here are some ways that you can show that you want to be supportive without worrying that you will be making matters worse.

1. I am so sad that you have to deal with this. You don't deserve this.

woman consoling a friend
Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Many people who have IBS feel that this is somehow a personal weakness or a mark of shame. Supportive statements in which you acknowledge the unfairness of the situation can go a long way toward helping a person to reduce any unnecessary and unearned negative self-judgement.

2. What can I do to help?

helping hand reaching out
Maskot/Getty Images

Don't assume that you know what is best for the other person. Keep it simple and ask them! 

Research indicates that people who have IBS can feel an increased sense of anxiety if they feel that others are taking control of decision-making. Since anxiety can make IBS symptoms worse, this is certainly something that you will want to avoid.

3. I would love to spend time with you. What would you like to do?

friends laughing on a couch
Morsa Images/DigitalVision/Getty Images

IBS symptoms are extremely changeable. By allowing the person with IBS to take the lead in terms of planning activities, you are allowing them to make decisions based on how they are feeling.

This question also shows that you do not view them, or their IBS, as a burden. Instead, you are letting them know that what is important is just the fact that you are together - it is not that important what you actually do.

Along the same lines, you can be a good friend by being open to changing plans quickly. This allows the other person the ability to prioritize self-care should they experience a sudden worsening of symptoms.

4. How would you best like to manage this invitation?

Walter B. McKenzie/The Image Bank/Getty Images

IBS patients often struggle with making hard commitments such as travel plans or saying yes to party invitations, due to a fear that their symptoms will be acting up. When you give them a sense of control as to how best to manage the event, you will be helping to reduce their anxiety and increase their comfort level.

5. What foods are you comfortable eating?

friends reading a menu
Image Source/Getty Images

Don't assume that you know best what someone else should be eating. Only the person with IBS knows what is best for their body at any given moment in time. Before choosing a restaurant or inviting someone over for a meal, ask them what foods they enjoy, as well as what foods they typically avoid. Do this with kindness and sensitivity and it will be much appreciated.

Other Helpful Things to Say

people on cell phones
JGI/Tom Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

I took to social media and posted the question, "What is the most helpful thing you wish others would say to you about your IBS?" Here are some of the responses that I received:

  • "Washrooms are not just for customers only!"
  • "Here is a nice heating pad. Think of your most relaxing place and go there in your mind. It does help."
  • "I understand it's the symptoms and not you that is unreliable. How can we help you get back into employment" (This one included the hashtag #IWish)
  • "We've installed a private toilet in your office."

Gerson, "An international study of irritable bowel syndrome: Family relationships and mind-body attributions" Social Science & Medicine 2006 62:2838-2847.

Continue Reading