Last August, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has implemented a new assessment rule for disability benefits, given that a high rate of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. The VA presumes that military service during the veterans' detachment in the Gulf War is responsible for the development of functional GI disorder in veterans. In support of the veterans, the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) calls for more and improved ways to assist them.

Nancy Norton, president and founder of IFFGD said:

"Otherwise healthy individuals are experiencing digestive issues that can be debilitating. These issues began during deployment and then continue long after they have returned home. These conditions disrupt veterans' regular daily activities and, sometimes, their efforts to return to a normal life."

Scientists have not identified single causes of IBS and other functional GI disorders, and Brennan Spiegel, a medical advisor to IFFGD and Associate Professor of Medicine at the VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System, Division of Digestive Diseases, UCLA School of Medicine and Division of Gastroenterology, explains:

"Long-term or repeated exposure to high levels of stress can cause physical changes in the brain and the intestines. Military personnel also often are exposed to gastrointestinal infections from food or water and other environmental factors. These combined factors could trigger the long-term debilitating GI symptoms we are seeing in returning veterans."

About 10 to 15% of the general population suffer from IBS, which typically consists of various chronic symptoms, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation, as well as bloating or nausea. Although everyone will suffer from these symptoms from time to time, IBS symptoms continue to reccur, and often without warning.

Although there is no cure for IBS, there are treatments that attempt to relieve symptoms, and a diagnosis by a healthcare professional as well as information about the disorder is an important first step.

The IFFGD has started an awareness and advocacy campaign for veterans with IBS and other functional GI disorders that aims to educate, promote better care, and encourage more research.

The veterans are actively involved in the campaign by telling their stories, which demonstrate the need for more information about IBS and functional GI disorders as well as to achieve better care for those who suffer from the condition.

The campaign aims to increase awareness and education amongst care providers to achieve prompt, accurate diagnoses and treatments and to have more treatment facilities for soldiers with GI disorders. It also hopes to encourage further research to shed more light on the association between these conditions and the military service.

Written by Petra Rattue