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SoN researchers offer hope for IBS sufferers


Date: August 29, 2013
Media Contact: Ashley Wiggin,, 206-221-2456

SoN researchers Peg Heitkemper and Monica Jarrett have led the way in research for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for more than twenty years. The pair are viewed as pioneers in the study of this painful bowel condition and in 2010, published a book on their behavioral intervention into IBS symptoms titled “Master your IBS: an 8-week plan to control the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.” Heitkemper and Jarrett continue to study the disorder and try to learn more about its causes, symptoms and how to help the people suffering from IBS.

“Overall, we have seen that the intervention reduces the participants’ symptoms and improves their quality of life,” said Heitkemper. 

The National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse (NDDIC) estimates that IBS affects between 3 and 20 percent of the US population, especially in women under the age of 45.[1] However, IBS has long been a disorder that has been misunderstood. Heitkemper notes that not that long ago, most people believed intestinal problems were just caused by “too much stress.” She recalls her mother, who suffered from ulcer disease, was told by her doctor that she likely simply needed to reduce the stress in her life, which was hard to do for a WWII army nurse. This lifelong problem sparked an interest in Heitkemper, who began exploring IBS in the early 1990s.

“As nurses, we take a whole person approach to understanding the condition, rather than focusing on a specific area of the body,” Heitkemper said. “Early on, there were psychiatrists looking at the brain and gastroenterologists looking at the GI tract. We chose instead to focus on how these parts are working or not working together.”

The intervention program is developed and tailored to each participant, depending on their symptoms and needs. Jarrett notes that each person has a different pattern of symptoms and triggers, so no two interventions are exactly the same.

“The diet intervention helps people understand what kinds of food impact them and how they can limit that impact by changing their diet or behavior,” said Jarrett. “We were among the first people to look at the impact of diet on IBS.”

Jarrett believes that the intervention programs they have developed allow patients to lead fuller and happier lives.

“We don’t ever say we are going to cure them during this intervention process, but as one person says, “The IBS is in the background now. This intervention allows me to get on with my life.”

The pair have completed several intervention studies, which have focused on everything from diet, to the impact of sleep on IBS symptoms, to how IBS patients respond stress. Currently, they are recruiting for a study to explore sensitivity and pain in IBS patients. You can learn more about the study and the ongoing IBS work at


[1] National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse,


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