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Thanks To One Dodgy Meal, My Bowels Have Never Been The Same — Welcome To Post-Infectious IBS

James’ life was turned upside down after a serious infection gave him post-infectious IBS — IMODIUM® and Guts UK Charity have partnered with HuffPost UK to get more people talking, so it’s time to hear his story.
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I can remember the exact meal that changed my life — and my guts — forever.

I was 19 and my friends and I were travelling in Peru. We went out for a big meal and had opted for a curry house that looked like a safe bet with decent food hygiene. I opted for a llama tikka masala, we had a few beers and all in all had an amazing night.

Well, that is until the next morning, when I trusted a fart that I shouldn’t have — truly a nightmare situation when you’re in bed in a shared dorm. I managed to sneak myself (and my bed sheets) out without anyone noticing, but little did I know that this one mortifying incident was just the start of this now 10-year-plus journey.

What I had eaten had given me amoebic dysentery, which is like the worst dysentery you can have. It’s essentially a parasite of bacteria that tries to eat to your stomach lining and, of course, with my luck, they didn’t diagnose it quickly enough.

Although I was given treatment, it wasn’t the right treatment. Two weeks and one five-hour-long knee-shaking toilet incident later, I went to hospital abroad for the second time. Fortunately, this time I got the help I needed.

When I got home, my mum made me go to the doctor to get checked out (because naturally, as a 19-year-old boy, I thought everything would be a-okay) and they decided to send me to a specialist.

“And despite my thinking that everything would go back to normal, my dysentery had led to a new life with post-infectious IBS.”

Since then, I’ve lived with varying degrees of constipation. I can drink two litres of water, I can stay away from gluten — no matter what happens, I will be mildly constipated.

Until, let’s say, I find a really good bakery and I’m like, ‘I’m going to have this delicious-looking pastry.’ And then the next day, there’ll be a moment where I get a cold sweat. I’ll race to the toilet…and then I will explode for the next 20 minutes.

Horrified at my honesty? Well, we need to talk about this. We have got to make this more normal, as so many of us are going through it, and at the end of the day, we all poo, right? It’s not a secret.

I’m really lucky that I work with such an accepting group of people and I’ve told them all about my IBS. We’re at the stage now where they can go into the toilet after me and will shout about how smelly it is and it’s all done in jest. It completely removes the anxiety of being hit by IBS at work. I’m not hiding in the toilet, spraying my deodorant and desperately trying to clean the place within an inch of its life.

If you can take the mickey out of yourself, that emotion normalises it, then everyone else will join you on that level. You’re actually in control! I definitely find comfort in toilet humour, but I guess I’d rather have someone laughing with me than have them feel uncomfortable about what’s happening to me.

“As for my constipation, if it really has been a significant number of days, I find a soluble sachet of fibre can help me. When the diarrhoea hits, I’ll do my best to relax. I find that staying near a toilet helps with the worry of being caught short, and I take IMODIUM® to relieve the diarrhoea!”

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I felt better about my IBS when I realised that the only person who was going to make it okay for me was me! Above everything, my practising of cognitive behavioural therapy and self-reflection was the most helpful. This makes me aware of the way I’m feeling and I can reflect on and understand my emotions, so they don’t have such a hold over me. In turn, this helps me cope with my IBS.

I find that stress can worsen my symptoms, whether this is my gut and brain talking or simply the fact that I don’t eat so well when I’m stressed and don’t sleep well! This is why self-reflection really helps, because I do believe my mood and emotional wellness has a massive impact on my IBS.

So if you’re reading this and have IBS, help us all normalise speaking about it. Your friends who are your real friends will laugh along with you and they’ll support you with it — who wants people in their life who are freaked out by something all of our bodies do anyway?

Find people who can empathise with what’s happening to you and share their war stories (Guts UK are brilliant for this) so that you can understand that no matter what happens, something worse has happened to someone else. You’ve got this!

IMODIUM®, GB’s leading anti-diarrhoea brand¹, and Guts UK, the charity for the digestive system, have joined forces to support your gut health with 100 combined years of expertise. You can learn more about how they are working together here.

If you are struggling with anxiety, IBS, persistent or chronic diarrhoea, we recommend you speak with a doctor for further guidance.

1. For claims verification please call 0808 238 9999. Source© NielsenIQ data, Value, Units, anti-diarrhoea category (client defined) 52 w/e 17.02.2024 (GB Total Coverage).

IMODIUM® Instants contain loperamide hydrochloride. For acute diarrhoea (aged 12+) and for medically diagnosed IBS diarrhoea (aged 18+). Always read the label.

Johnson & Johnson Limited will donate £20,000 to Guts UK Charity (reg. charity no. 1137029) in relation to this 2024 charitable campaign and are working collaboratively with the charity to raise awareness, including creation of a media campaign and patient education materials.