Cybill Shepherd and the Irritable Bowel
Cybill Shepherd has revealed that she suffers from irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS). The star of Moonlighting and Taxi Driver
says that she has struggled with her symptoms for many years,
and is now hoping to raise awareness of IBS and encourage
sufferers to talk more openly with their doctors.
She says: 'For years I have been battling recurring
constipation, abdominal pain and bloating. Go ahead and laugh.
We laugh because we're embarrassed. In order for us to get
relief, we have to talk about our symptoms and stop suffering in
silence. 'I have tried nearly everything: changing my diet and
watching what I ate. I exercised regularly. I even tried taking
fiber supplements and over-the-counter laxatives, but nothing
helped with all of my symptoms.
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'My doctor used to tell me it was all emotional and
psychological. So I got a new doctor. And a year and a half ago,
I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation.
It was a huge relief to find out that my IBS with constipation
was not all in my head and that it was a treatable medical
condition. My doctor prescribed Zelnorm and it has provided me
with relief for all my symptoms. In a lot of ways, I feel like
my old self again.'
And good for her! I think that many IBS sufferers will identify
with what she says: from embarrassing, unmentionable symptoms to
doctors who insist that our bowel problems are really in our
We may identify less with her relief from one drug alone
(although the new drugs Zelnorm and Lotronex have had a good
success rate in America), but we could all benefit from talking
more openly with our doctors and looking for more solutions
rather than accepting that IBS will rule our lives.
What Cybill Shepherd has done, though, is more than just draw
attention to the fact that IBS sufferers need more help. Just by
revealing that she is an IBS sufferer she has shown that IBS can
affect anyone. Here is a glamorous, successful actress, someone
who has kissed Bruce Willis and won three Golden Globes, saying
that she has trouble with her bowels.
The power of celebrity
In these celebrity-soaked times it can be easy to forget that
famous people sometimes achieve genuinely selfless and
compassionate things just by using their fame. The greatest
power that they have is the ability to shine the light of their
stardom on an issue which would otherwise have been ignored.
And yes, the issue may sometimes be whatever cause is most
fashionable at the time - 'Gay whales against racism' as one
satirist put it ' or the one which helps the star more than the
people (or whales) who are suffering. But sometimes there is no
doubt that the celeb has really stuck their neck out to help
others who are dealing with an issue that is considered
And I can't thing of a more untouchable issue than IBS,
something that no-one in the public eye would readily admit to.
Can you imagine Julia Roberts standing up and saying 'Diarrhea
is the blight of my life and hemorrhoids have driven me to
drink'? No, of course not, because anything remotely digestive
is considered highly embarrassing and distinctly unglamorous.
Cybill Shepherd's admission, therefore, is to be applauded.
Dare not speak its name
Before Cybill Shepherd 'came out', the only famous person I knew
of who had IBS was Kelsey Grammar's wife (Kelsey Grammar used to
play Frasier in the eponymous sitcom and Cheers).
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Whoever you are, whatever your gender or problems or pain, it is
vital that you find someone with whom you can identify. If you
watch TV and never see a reflection of yourself, if you are a
black man and only ever see white faces on screen, then you will
start to feel alienated ' and the same goes for people who are
If you constantly hear about diabetes sufferers and asthma
sufferers but never hear a word about bowels then you begin to
learn that your illness is far less important than these other
We need more people in the public eye standing up and saying 'Me
too', so that everyone can start to realise just how widespread
a problem this is.
Don't suffer in silence
But it's not just about how other people perceive us, and how we
perceive ourselves. It's also about making sure that anyone who
has bowel symptoms seeks help, and at the moment that just
There are still many people with bowel problems who are too
ashamed or embarrassed to go to the doctor, and just soldier on
through their lives when they could be receiving treatment. And
there's always the risk, of course, that their symptoms could
actually be the result of something other than IBS that may get
progressively worse if it is left alone.
IBS often goes undiagnosed for years, and even when we pluck up
the courage to visit the doctor we can be so tongue-tied that we
don't properly describe our symptoms. If we could leave our
embarrassment in the waiting room it would be so much better for
Cybill Shepherd says: 'My goal is to urge all women to get over
their embarrassment, to stop suffering in silence the way I did,
and to talk to their doctors. Although it may be uncomfortable,
it is very important for you to be open and honest with your
doctor about all your symptoms'.
And things can change. Just think about breast cancer, which is
now regularly discussed on TV and radio, but 20 years ago was
stuck behind a wall of silence where breasts were not to be
mentioned, cancerous or not.
If we can just get a few more Cybill Shepherds to speak out for
IBS then the celebrities of this world might start wearing
ribbons for you and me, and leave the gay whales to fight for
About the author:
Sophie Lee has had IBS for 15 years and runs the Irritable Bowel
Syndrome Treatment website at
http://www.irritable-bowel-syndrome.ws where you can read about
all kinds of different IBS treatments.
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