Why it’s OK to ‘own your gas’ and other embarrassing digestive issues

A trending TikTok movement is helping to banish the stigma around irritable bowel syndrome – burping, gas, bloating and all.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the most common digestive disorder in the world and impacts one in five Australians.

Now, after years of suffering in silence, a wave of women on TikTok are sharing what it’s like to live with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

With more than 69 million views and rising, the social media platform’s hashtags #IBStiktok (along with #hotgirlswithIBS at 12.6 million views, #tummytrouble and even #poopy) are helping normalise IBS symptoms like bloating, diarrhoea, farts and constipation.

Noisy Guts co-founder Dr Josephine Muir says social media content creators are shaking things up in the right way.

“They’re doing a great job of removing the social stigma of what is a really chronic condition,” Dr Muir says, herself an IBS sufferer.

“The number of people with IBS here is way higher than internationally — many Australians are walking around chronically constipated.”

Dr Muir says it is easy to feel ghosted by the medical profession, because IBS has no single cause and can easily be confused with other issues making diagnosis difficult.

Dietitian Rebecca Flavel says normalising IBS conversation can encourage people to seek help.

“That sense of sharing your story and realising that you’re not alone can be important, particularly when it comes to realising that there is help available,” Rebecca says.

So, what actually is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional condition of the bowel and signs and symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Constipation

Women are more likely than men to suffer from IBS.

The exact cause isn’t clear, but certain factors are known to trigger the gut disorder, such as:

How to manage symptoms of IBS

Noisy Guts, which is affiliated with The University of Western Australia, is currently working on a non-invasive and accurate diagnostic test for IBS.

Dr Muir says it’s important to see a health professional if you have symptoms.

“While TikTok is shining a light on these health issues in a positive way, don’t go to social media for your medical advice,” Dr Muir says.

“There isn’t a cure for IBS; if there was that would be fabulous, but a multi-pronged approach can work.”

That often includes dietary strategies such as a low-FODMAP diet, which restricts short-chain carbohydrates which are poorly digested in the colon, she says.

A dietitian can help identify your individual triggers and work with you to create a balanced diet that suits you.

“There’s a lot that can be done to help people optimise gut health and happiness, which can have flow on effects to your mental health too.”

Written by Liz McGrath.