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After having IBS for more than 20 years, Ansar Ahmed Ullah is learning to live with the condition.
"I think my IBS came from too many curries!" says Ansar Ahmed Ullah. He first came to London in the early 1980s. Living in shared accommodation, he relied on spicy takeaways for his main meal in the evening. "We'd also go to the community centre at lunchtime, where they served curry and rice," he remembers.
In the mid-1980s, Ansar started to suffer from frequent constipation, bloating, occasional diarrhoea and stomach pain. On one occasion, the pain was so bad that he was rushed to hospital. "I was there for a week," he remembers. "The doctors gave me all kinds of tests. They thought I might have a stomach ulcer, but they didn't find anything."
Ansar eventually spoke to his GP, who diagnosed IBS. He was prescribed painkillers and a muscle relaxant drug to ease his constipation. Unfortunately, neither drug was effective.
He joined the IBS Network to learn about his condition. He had several food allergy tests and discovered that he was sensitive to wheat, spicy food and dairy products.
"Luckily, I'm still able to eat chicken and fish," he says. "Avoiding dairy and wheat is very difficult. I love milk in my tea. I've never been able to stand the taste of soya, and I love bread and biscuits. I've found the wheat-free ranges at the supermarkets very helpful, though."
Ansar says he's tried every IBS remedy on the market. "I've more or less resigned myself to the fact that I'm not going to be cured of IBS," he says. "But it can be very difficult.
"The mornings are the worst. When I was employed, I was constantly late because I had to spend so long in the toilet with constipation. There's not a lot of awareness of IBS, particularly among young people, so it's hard for people to understand what you're going through."
Ansar says IBS also affects his relationship with his partner. "She does sometimes get annoyed when she needs to go somewhere in a hurry and I'm still in the toilet. It's also very awkward when you're out and about and you need to use a loo suddenly or for a long period of time. The IBS is in the back of my mind all the time. I have to consider it when I go anywhere or do anything."
However, Ansar tries not to let his IBS get him down. "I do my best to stick to my wheat-free diet and eat plenty of fruit. I've found that really helps the constipation. I'm also planning to take more exercise. I already go to Pilates and I've got a bike, which I should really use more! I think I'm learning to live with my IBS."