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'I can't drink red wine or spirits, or eat chocolate'

Claire Sugden (29) is an Independent Unionist MLA. She lives in Coleraine with her fiance Andy. She says:

I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in my mid to late teens.

Other illnesses were ruled out, but IBS is not a condition that can be properly confirmed.

I also feel it's a condition that's easily dismissed and you don't get much support. My symptoms include feeling bloated after eating and lots of different kinds of foods disagree with me. I'm still trying to figure out the foods that I can and can't eat. It was suggested that I was lactose intolerant so I started drinking lactose-free milk and I feel better as a result. My symptoms come back if I drink ordinary milk.

Sugar, fats and alcohol also upset my stomach, too. I don't eat at all during the day, but when I go to a meeting or an event, it feels rude to turn down a cup of tea or sandwich that I'm offered. Even tea and coffee can give me heartburn.

I certainly feel better when I don't eat rich, fatty foods, but sometimes I do indulge especially at this time of the year - and I just have to deal with the consequences. I can't drink red wine or spirits at all now or I will get heartburn. I try to avoid chocolate as that can be problematic, too.

There are remedies for IBS, but they treat the symptom, not the condition. I decided I didn't want to take tablets so all there really is to soothe cramps is peppermint oil."

KERRY McKITTRICK

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