1 August 2022

Bowel disease patients keep their conditions secret from family, friends and colleagues, finds new survey

Bowel Research UK launches new taboo-busting campaign ‘Have You Got The Guts?’

A survey of people living with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis and diverticulitis and those who have been treated for bowel cancer has found many are reluctant to ‘go public’ about their disorders, preferring to hide the realities of their conditions from friends, family and colleagues.

The survey, conducted by market researchers OnePoll on behalf of medical research charity Bowel Research UK, found that four in 10 people who had been diagnosed with a bowel disease preferred not to share details of their condition with friends.

It found over a third (36%) had not informed their employer about their bowel health issues and more than a quarter (26%) had not even told family members.

Just over a quarter (26%) also admitted to delaying discussing their symptoms with their GP. Moreover, over four in ten (42%) said reluctance to see a GP with their bowel issues had led to a delay in receiving a formal diagnosis of their condition. This resulted in more than half (55%) of respondents saying that delays negatively impacted their treatment options.

While 26% had chosen to avoid discussing their bowels with a GP, medical practitioners topped the list of groups respondents were most comfortable discussing their conditions with.

The survey showed that over six out of ten (61%) were happy to speak to their medical practitioner, with family next at 54% and friends at 47%.  Online support groups also scored highly, with 47% of respondents comfortable sharing personal bowel health details in these forums.

More than 8 out of 10 (83%) of survey respondents are in full time employment. The survey found that 45% of respondents admitted to concerns over employment discrimination if they shared their condition with a current or future employer.

Today, Bowel Research UK has launched its new ‘Have You Got The Guts?’ campaign to encourage people with bowel disease to talk more openly about their bowels with the aim of reducing social embarrassment associated with discussing bowel function.

Under the hashtag #auguts, the charity’s new campaign focuses on why it is so important in terms of earlier diagnosis that anyone living with a chronic bowel disease or who has had bowel surgery can feel more comfortable talking about it, even if it means acknowledging and overcoming personal embarrassment.

Lynn Dunne, Interim CEO of Bowel Research UK, said:

“Our survey discovered just how difficult it is for some people to go and see their GP or medical practitioner with bowel disease symptoms. We know with bowel cancer the earlier it is discovered the more easily and successfully it is treated. The same applies to most IBDs.

“With over half the people we surveyed saying a delay in seeing their GP had negative impacts on their treatment options, we really must do more to challenge the social taboos around talking about bowels and bowel movements.

“Our Have You Got The Guts? campaign recognises just how difficult nearly everyone finds it to talk about poo and bowel movements outside of our closest social circles, and we hope by talking openly about this natural discomfort we can make it a little easier for others with bowel disease to begin to break that social taboo.”

For the whole of this month, Bowel Research UK’s homepage will feature stories from its network of patient volunteers who have shared their own often humorous and refreshingly honest stories about dealing with the embarrassment of living with their bowel conditions.

Bowel Research UK is also calling for members of the public with bowel disease to come forward and share their personal stories via its website www.bowelresearchuk.org, which will help tackle the stigma of talking about bowels in public.

The campaign to promote #auguts has been developed by creative agency Bladonmore who put together the campaign video and new homepage content, as well as designing a series of social media adverts and individual patient videos that will be uploaded to the charity’s website throughout the whole of August.

Anthony Coombes, Creative Director at Bladonmore, said:

“Bladonmore’s brief was to put the concept of #auguts on the map. We produced the ‘Have You Got The Guts?’ campaign video which we will be helping share widely on social media. We hope the video strikes the balance of humour and engagement but without being flippant about an ultimately serious topic.

“Bowel Research UK also asked us to produce content that helps people with bowel diseases feel more ‘comfortable with being uncomfortable’ when talking about their bowels.  We have worked hand in hand with the charity to produce a new homepage for their website where there are lots of personal stories from people living with bowel disease, and where members of the public can also upload their experiences too, safe in the knowledge that others have been happy to talk openly their own experiences, warts, or should that be poo?, and all.”