Embarrassed by Your Stomach Symptoms?

Tips on how to talk to your doctor about gastric upset

Jan 2012 enews IBS 260×180

Chronic gas, bloating, cramping, constipation and diarrhea can wreak havoc on your day-to-day life, and are often the source of great embarrassment. Discussing these symptoms can be even more embarrassing, but when it comes to persistent digestive issues, it’s important to talk to your physician openly, no matter how shy you’re feeling.


“Patients are often reluctant to discuss most of what occurs in the bathroom,” says Barrett Levesque, MD, director of inflammatory bowel disease at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, California. “Although it’s a universal human experience, most people don’t want to discuss their bowel habits. It is important to share these symptoms with your doctor, specifically changes in the bowel function, disabling gas or flatulence, ongoing constipation or diarrhea, pain around the anus and rectal bleeding.”

Eliminating a more serious diagnosis

One of the most common gastrointestinal disorders that encompass a variety of cringe-inducing symptoms is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This chronic digestive problem can cause so much discomfort that it’s one of the leading causes of missed work in the U.S., second only to the common cold, and it costs employers roughly $20 billion annually in lost productivity.


IBS is diagnosed through a review of symptoms and a variety of lab tests, imaging and physical exams to exclude other conditions. Discussing symptoms can help a physician identify the appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic steps, and rule out other digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, gallbladder disease, abdominal wall pain or colorectal cancer. Diseases and conditions that affect other parts of the body, such as the uterus and ovaries, can produce gastrointestinal symptoms as well, so leaving out details of your distress during a discussion with your doctor could result in a serious health issue being overlooked.

Talking to your doctor

While discussing flatulence and bowel movements may feel uncomfortable – avoiding the embarrassment won’t help you find the relief you need. Here are a few tips to help take away the shame when talking to your doctor about what happens in the bathroom:


  • Remember, everyone goes to the bathroom
    At some point, everyone has had gas, bloating, cramping and diarrhea. IBS is also one of the most common gastrointestinal problems with roughly 58 million Americans dealing with the condition. No matter how embarrassing your symptoms are, you’re not alone.
  • Don’t feel ashamed in front of doctors
    Don’t be afraid of offending, shocking or embarrassing your physician. Be candid about what’s bothering you. Your doctor wants to know exactly what you’re experiencing so they can make an accurate diagnosis and get you the treatment you need.
  • Write it down
    Make a list of symptoms and any questions you might have and bring it with you. If you get flustered, this will help keep you on track and will prevent you from forgetting symptoms that could help your doctor rule out other conditions.
  • Talk about more than just your symptoms
    Your symptoms are important, but they won’t be the only thing your doctor asks you about. Be prepared to discuss your diet with attention to the consumption of dairy products, alcohol, fiber, high fat foods and coffee. Your doctor will also want to know about your exercise habits, sleep habits and the amount of stress in your life.


“Patients need to realize that their health care team is available to help them with their symptoms,” says Dr. Levesque. “Without treatment, gastrointestinal symptoms will only continue to cause significant disruption to their lifestyle.”

Find help for your IBS symptoms

If you’re looking for a physician to help you with your IBS symptoms or other digestive problems, call 1-800-SCRIPPS (1- 800-727-4777) to get a referral from a member of our call center.