Car journeys or airplane trips were a nightmare; the condition affected her social life and how she dressed, caused pain and depression and damaged her confidence.
For 20 years Joan Horgan endured the discomfort and pain of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which struck without warning or any apparent cause.
"I have no idea what started it, but it began with bloating in my stomach and a lot of flatulence," says the Cork woman (63). "After a few months it progressed to difficult bowel movements with diarrhoea and constipation, but there had been no change in my diet," says Joan, a widow who lives in Douglas.
Like many sufferers of the condition, commonly known as IBS, Joan was reluctant to discuss her condition. Research shows that 75pc of women won't talk about digestive problems because of embarrassment and that 73pc avoid seeking help for digestive troubles because of it: "I was embarrassed about it and kept it to myself in the beginning," she recalls.
"I thought perhaps I might have been eating the wrong food, but looking back now I think my mother had IBS as well because I remember she suffered with a bloated stomach and constant pain in her tummy for many years."
But while it embarrassed her, the condition didn't discourage Joan, the mother of an adult son, from seeking medical help.
She says: "I went to my GP on numerous occasions, saw a number of consultants and had seven or eight colonoscopies and gastroscopies over a period of about 14 years but they just put it down to IBS."
Joan tried everything, including the exclusion of foods such as milk, bread, beer and tomatoes from her diet, but to no avail.
IBS, which affects about 10pc to 15pc of the general population, is about one-and-a-half-times more common in women than men and usually affects the 18-35 age group – often quite significantly, according to Dr Eileen Murphy, Research Director and Nutritionist at Cork company Alimentary Health.
"Your life revolves around your bowel habits because the main symptom of IBS is abdominal pain, as well as diarrhoea, constipation and gas," she explains. "We know of people who cannot wear the same clothes in the evening that they wore in the morning," she says.
So it was for Joan, who found the bloating became so bad it even changed the way she dressed.
"My stomach would be flat in the morning but would start to bloat during the day to such an extent that the clothes I had on in the morning were too tight by evening," she recalls.
"I started buying loose, flowing clothes to hide it. I became embarrassed and in a sense almost retreated into my home.
This, it appears, is a common problem with IBS – three-quarters of the 480 Irish women surveyed in a new nationwide study, She's Got Guts, said their digestive problems affected their self-confidence.
One in four admitted that digestive problems prevented them from leading a productive, fulfilling social life and participating in sports or recreation and gatherings with friends or family.
Health & Living