Making hard work of bowel problems
Employers need to take the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome seriously, in terms of employment law
“That’s your right as a worker, and the law is also designed to ensure that the economy and employers benefit from people’s abilities, regardless of any specific disabilities or medical conditions they may have,” he says.
A spokesman for the HSE says: “The HSE had just received the report, the decision has been noted and the HSE is considering the report.”
The causes of IBS are unknown, but may be related to environmental factors, including stress and diet. It occurs when the normal way in which food is moved through the gut is disrupted, leading to stomach cramps and pain.
IBS is often confused with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which comprises two conditions, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). It is much less common, affecting about 15,000 people in Ireland, but generally more serious.
IBD is an autoimmune condition similar to rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Both illnesses have many of the same symptoms including stomach cramps, diarrhoea and weight loss, but IBD is distinguished by bloody diarrhoea.
Both conditions are incurable but can be managed. The nature of them make it hard for those who suffer from them to go public about their condition.
Patricia McArdle, who is now the chairwoman of the Irish Society for Crohn’s Disease and Colitis (ISCC), was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 22, two days before starting her career in a Big 4 accountancy practice.
“Starting work in a high-pressure organisation is daunting enough but starting it with an illness which causes constant stomach cramps, urgency and extreme fatigue was pretty tough,” she recalls.
“I survived to a point but after a few months, when constant deadlines and frequent nights working to 2am meant my body was not responding to the medication, I received some straight talking from my consultant,” she says.
“I had to give in and change my job to something a little less stressful. I was very lucky to be able to do that and still follow my career goals, many patients out there aren’t.”
The extent to which serious bowel conditions can affect a person’s jobs prospects was outlined in a European-wide survey of patients with IBD which included Ireland.
Some 4,000 IBD sufferers across Europe, including 125 in Ireland, were surveyed by the European Crohn’s and Colitis Organisation (ECCO).
Some 65 per cent of those surveyed spoke of feeling pressure for taking time off work and a similar figure felt their career prospects were hindered by the illness.
A total of 77 per cent had to take five or more days in sick leave in the previous year. Roughly one in four people (24 per cent) says they have experienced discrimination in the workplace and one in five says they have been the victims of complaints or unfair comments about their performance.