Leading experts are today (Friday 4 July) gathering in the North East of England to encourage more people to speak-up about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other functional bowel disorders - conditions that affect 1 in 10 in the UK. *
An estimated 6.5m people suffer bowel problems with many still unable to come forward for treatment, due to the stigma or possibility of embarrassment attached to the condition.
Over 150 patients are expected to attend 'Bowel Independence Day', an event organised by the Durham Constipation Clinic, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust (CDDFT).
National experts will be attending the conference, the first of its kind in the North East, at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Durham, and speaking on a wide range of topics chosen by patients. As well as educational content, the conference aims to raise the profile of bowel conditions and provide patients with a voice, through small group sessions, to comment on the way services should be run.
Professor Yan Yiannakou, Professor of Neurogastroenterology, Director of Research and Development at CDDFT, set up the first Durham Constipation Clinic 14 years ago. He said: "About a quarter of the UK's adult population suffer regular symptoms related to Functional Gut Disorders, which include irritable bowel syndrome, constipation and chronic indigestion.
"These are not dangerous conditions and can often be easily managed with simple dietary and lifestyle measures so they have developed a reputation for being mild and of little importance. However, some patients do have severe and intractable symptoms which cause considerable pain and lead to limitation of daily activities, problems with relationships, loss of work and depression.
"A lack of understanding of these illnesses together with treatments that were poorly effective has led, in the past, to some patients feeling that there was little that could be done for them. But recent advances in testing, drugs and device-based therapies are starting to provide answers.
"Bowel Independence Day is all about helping patients, getting their views on how to further improve our services, and sharing experiences and knowledge."
36-year old mum of two, Adele Burlinson, from Sunderland is one of the patients whose life has changed since having treatment at the Chronic Constipation Clinic. She has suffered long-term bowel problems, but has undergone treatment that has changed her life. She said: "I've had bowel problems since I was a toddler and these have become worse as I've grown older. I have a condition called 'slow transit'. This means that I suffer chronic constipation which can last for anything up to 3 or 4 weeks. Before my treatment, I suffered from severe pain, bloating and fatigue and, some days, I just felt so ill that I couldn't get out of bed.
"It took me a long time to really face the problem and go to the doctors. I felt embarrassed and it was hard knowing who to turn to for help when you're so tired and unwell.
"It all came to a head when I gave birth to my first little girl. I was totally fed up with being sick and I didn't want to miss any more days of my life. My GP referred me to Professor Yiannakou and his team at University Hospital North Durham. He was really positive. I started to take part in medical trials and got some great advice on diet, exercise and relaxation techniques."
There are a number of treatments available at the Durham Constipation Clinic, one of these is electrical neuromodulation therapy and Adele was one of the first to have an operation to fit a bowel pacemaker for constipation.
Adele explained: "In January 2014, my life completely changed. I had a sacral-nerve stimulator fitted under my skin at the base of my spine. It was a fairly easy procedure and I feel so much better. The pulses that it sends help to regulate my bowel and I was back at work in four weeks. I can now control my condition and my life via a remote control device which is just brilliant."
Professor Yiannakou, added: "At least 1 in 25 consultations with a GP in Britain are for symptoms of a functional gut disorder so it's very common. There is a lot of help around for people now, and there are clinics with specialists providing treatments, support and advice that can really improve the lives of people who may have become resigned to their symptoms."
The Durham Constipation Clinic, led by Professor Yiannakou, serves the whole of the North of England and is one of the largest dedicated constipation clinics in Europe. The clinics, held at University Hospital North Durham, are helping around 1,500 people a year and provide a holistic, patient centred, multi-disciplinary approach to bowel conditions and also allow patients the opportunity to participate in trials of novel treatments. Patients are referred to the clinic by their GP.
Adele added: "Getting treatment is not as horrible as some people might think. Yes, some of it can seem invasive and embarrassing but the staff are so reassuring and the end result is totally worth it.
"I'm so much better: I have far less pain and I'm less bloated. I haven't had one bad day since it was fitted in January. It's lovely to be able to play a full part in the family again, spending more time with my daughters and husband, and to be back at work and enjoying life.
"It's natural to feel embarrassed about something we try to hide or shy away from, however, if you are suffering from bowel problems, please be reassured - there is help out there and it can change your life."
County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust is one of the largest integrated care providers in England, serving a population of around 600,000 people across County Durham, Darlington, North Yorkshire, the Tees Valley and South Tyneside. The Trust brings together hospital, community services and health and wellbeing services to provide high quality and seamless care for patients.