Tag Archives: Misconceptions

Common Myths About Irritable Bowel Syndrome

In 2013, I was provisionally diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) after no other cause for my chronic abdominal pain and alternating diarrhea and constipation had been found. I don’t have a severe case of it, having mild to moderate abdominal pain a few times a week but rarely severe pain. I am usually not significantly disabled by my symptoms either. I also happen to respond quite well to mebeverine (Colofab), an antispasmodic that relaxes the bowel muscles. Nonetheless, it is frustrating that there are still many common misconceptions about IBS. Here, I will share some of these.

1. IBS is just a fancy way of saying abdominal pain. It is true that the diagnosis of IBS is commonly based on symptom assessments and exclusion of other disorders, since there is no laboratory test to prove someone has IBS. However, IBS has many symptoms other than abdominal pain, and besides, the abdominal pain suffered by IBS patients is chronic and can be severe. It is not like, if you have bowel cramps for a day, you have IBS. Other core symptoms of IBS are diarrhea and/or constipation, feeling bloated, straining or urgency to defecate. Many sufferers have additional fatigue, acid reflux, etc.

2. IBS is all in the head. It is unclear what causes IBS, and stress could be a factor. That doesn’t mean it’s all in the head though. Stress can cause physical symptoms that are no less real just because stress causes them. It is also correct that IBS is associated with problems in the communication between the brain and the gut, but that could be both a brain and a gut problem. For example, people with IBS may be hypersensitive to abdominal discomfort. This however does not mean they choose to be in pain or are overreacting. It is an interplay between biological and psychosocial factors that cause people to experience the symptoms of IBS.

3. There is no clear definition of iBS. Like I said, there is no test for IBS, but there is a definition. For several decades, the Rome criteria have been in use for determining who has IBS. These criteria require that patients have had recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort at least three days per month during the previous three months that is associated with two
or more of the following:


  • Relieved by defecation.

  • Onset associated with a change in stool frequency.

  • Onset associated with a change in stool form or appearance.


When these criteria are met, only limited tests are recommended based on the individual’s situation. In my own case, it was hard to determine whether I met these criteria, as my pain certainly wasn’t relieved by defecation and I wasn’t sure of the other two.

4. IBS is caused by poor diet and lifestyle. Just [insert lifestyle habit or diet here] and you’ll be fine. While some people have food sensitivities that contribute to their abdominal discomfort, others do not. Also, indeed, some people find that exercisng more, not drinking alcohol, not smoking, etc. helps them. Others do not. Besides, even for those who do find that their diet or lifestyle contributes to their IBS symptoms, it may not be easy or may even be extremely hard to adjust their lifestyle or diet. I for one seem to be sensitive to sugary foods, but, as regular readers of my blog will know, I cannot seem to stop eating too much candy.

5. My [family member’s, friend’s, …] IBS was cured by [intervention], so yours can be cured too. Every person with IBS is different, and because many things contribute to IBS symptoms, there are many possible treatments. Mebeverine, the antispasmodic I use on occasion, has few side effects, but also is not very effective with most people. I am lucky that it helps me somewhat, but others wll not find relief from their symptoms with it. Same for diet, lifestyle changes, other medications (eg. antidepressants), psychological interventions, etc. They work for some but not othes.

6. IBS is the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Inflammatory bowel disease refers to Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. These are diseases which cause chronic inflammation to the digestive tract. Though some IBS sufferers have minor inflammation, especially if their symptoms set on after infection, it is not nearly as bad as with IBD. I for one had elevated calprotectin, an inflammation marker, when I was first tested for this. This led the doctor to think I might have IBD and get me a colonoscopy. Turns out I didn’t have IBD and on later tests, my calprotectin was normal again. It could’ve been I had an infection contributing to my symptoms.

7. IBS increases the risk of colon cancer. This is another difference between IBS and IBD: while IBD patients have a markedly increased risk of developing colon cancer, IBS patients do not.

8. IBS is not a serious concern. It is true, like I said above, that IBS does not cause cancer or suchlike. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not serious. Many people with irritable bowel syndrome find their symptoms to be severe and disabling. Besides, because IBS is so often misunderstood, many people experience social stigma. This can lead to further suffering. Get educated and stop stigmatizing people who have IBS.

Everyday Gyaan
Mums' Days

Six Myths About Autism

I haven’t written about autism in a long while. It is mostly because I have been busy writing other things, such as posts chronicling my eating disorder recovery journey and posts inspired by writing promts. I also don’t want to write too involved posts that are unreadable to a large majority of my readers. However, just today, I came across a really interesting post dismantling five myths about cerebral palsy. I am not a total laywoman on the subject of cerebral palsy, but even I could learn from thhis post. So I thought maybe I could do the same on autism. Here are some common myths, some of which even autistic people or parents of autistic children buy into. I did get rather caught up in details I think, but if some of my readers learn something from this, I’m content.

1. There is one single, known cause of autism. Most autistic people claim that autism is 100% genetic. Some people, mostly parents of autistic children, claim that autism is caused by vaccines, pesticides, or other environmental factors. These claims are often politically motivated. The autistics want a genetic cause because it means they are truly wired this way, while the people who claim vaccines or other environmental facotrs cause autism, want to argue that autism is a disease that can and should be cured. The reality is, the cause of autism is unknown. While the vaccine theory has been disproven, other environmental factor theories have not and twin studies show that autism isn’t 100% genetic. Other factors, such as premature birth and pregnancy complications, have been named too. Even if autism were 100% genetic, there are likely more than a few genes that contribute.

2. Autism is a physical illness. Related to the vaccine theory mentioned above, some people believe that autism is caused by “leaky gut”, an inability of the bowel to digest certain proteins that will leak through the bowel wall into the bloodstream and also through the blood-brain barrier. Until very recently, I thought that “leaky gut” is a fake condition propagated by alternative medicine. It isn’t. In fact, there are several conditions speculated to be due to this problem, for which the genes have been located on chromosome 16. The most logical example is Celiac disease, but other bowel conditions (eg. Crohn’s Disease) and in fact neurological conditions (eg. multiple sclerosis) may be partly caused by this problem. Therefore, it is not entirely impossible that autism in some cases may be partly due to “leaky gut”, but this is still just a theory. Research in this area (eg. whether gastointestinal problems are more common in autistics) shows mixed results. If a child or adult with autism has gastrointestinal symptoms, they may feel better after treatment for these symptoms. That doesn’t mean that autism is physical in nature. It could be related to “leaky gut”, but that doesnt’make the condition itself a physical health problem. By the way, there are no treatments so far that solve “leaky gut”. Avoiding gluten and dairy may help, but its effects have not been proven in those who do not have diagnosable Celiac disease.

3. Autism is a mental illness. This is somewhat of a political statement, and so is the stateement that it definitely is not a mental illness. I don’t particularly care if someone says autism is a mental illness, but most people disagree. There is no strict definition of a mental illness (contrasting it with a developmental disability) in the psychiatric manual (DSM-5). There is a definition of a mental disorder in DSM-5, but this includes autism too. There is also a definition of a neurodevelopmental disorder, the category under which autism is classified. This category includes conditions like ADHD, intellectual disability, Tourette Syndrome, and autism of course. This is a similar category to the categories of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders, or any other category within DSM-5. Formal categorization aside, however, most people say that autism is not a mental illness because it is developmental in nature. It is a common myth however, often held by autistics who have had negative experiences in psychiatry, that absolutely no treatment originally designed for other mental disorders, can be used for neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.

4. All autistic people have an intellectual disability. Autistics span the full range of intellectual abilities. The most pessimistic (if an intellectual disability is seen as a negative outcome) studies show that around 40% of people with autism spectrum disorders have an intellectual disablity. However, IQ is hard to measure in people with severe social and communicative deficits, so those with more severe autism are likely to score lower on a standardized IQ test (such as the Wechsler scales) than their actual ability. Others, particularly those with good verbal skills, may score higher than their real-world functioning would suggest.

5. Autism affects children only. The fact that it is developmental in nature, doesn’t mean that autism doesn’t affect adults. Autistic children gorw into autistic adutls just like for example children with Down Syndrome grow into adults with Down Syndrome. Children and adults with autism may improve in daily functioning, but they won’t become non-autistic.

6. Autism can be cured. Autistics, like people with other developmental disabilities, can learn adaptive skills to function as well as possible in daily life. That again doesn’t make them non-autistic. The most evidence-based intervetnion is applied behavior analysis, an intensive behavioral training. Even this approach can merely teach autistics to act like a non-autistic person in the situations they’ve been trained in. Some people cliam they have “cured” their autistic children with biomedical interventions. I won’t call these people liars, but there is no scientific evidence to support their claims.

Mums' Days