Be Your Own Investigator

By Mary-Joan Gerson, Ph.D.

When I see patients in my office for consultation, one of the most important concepts I try to convey is that every patient has to become his or her own investigator.

IBS is very varied in terms of symptomatology, and in terms of sensitivities. Most patients suffer more in the morning, and most are reactive to certain foods. But which foods and in which quantities? Some people find that vacations are a time of relief, leading to explorations about stress induced factors. But others actually find that getting away from a safe and controlled routine and environment make them worse!

I think that personal relationships are very important in managing chronic illness. How well partners or family members understand illness is crucial in enhancing coping. A partner who worries too much, or advises too much, can actually worsen illness management. The patient spends too much time fending off intrusive advice and concern. But just as problematic is a partner who ignores or dismisses symptoms, leading to shame and resentment, and drawing energy away from coping.

Thus, I think it is crucial that the IBS patient become very curious about her own pattern of illness — what might enhance tolerance for symptoms and perhaps even reduce their intensity. You are the expert and it is important that you share your findings with confidence to your doctor, your partner, your family members, and your friends.