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Keywords:

  • gender;
  • hermeneutics;
  • interviews;
  • irritable bowel syndrome;
  • nursing;
  • people's experiences

Abstract

Aim

The aim of the study was to explore the impact of irritable bowel syndrome on daily life from a gender perspective.

Background

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common functional disorder, characterized by abdominal pain, diarrhoea and/or constipation. Sufferers experience negative emotions due to unpredictable symptoms and sometimes feel trivialized by healthcare professionals. The sufferers' experience of living with this disorder has never been explored from a gender perspective.

Design

A qualitative, interpretative method was used.

Methods

A qualitative, hermeneutic method was applied. Interviews were conducted with 19 patients in 2011 and analysed in a constructionist gender framework. Constructionist gender theory views gender and identity as cultural constructs that develop through interplay between the individual and his/her social context and cultural norms.

Findings

The main theme to emerge from the interviews was as follows: ‘A normative framework of femaleness and maleness leads to suffering for persons with irritable bowel syndrome’. This consists of three interwoven themes: ‘Being forced to abandon gender illusions’; ‘Being forced to transcend taboos’ and ‘Reinforced suffering in healthcare encounters’. Men demonstrated masculinity by stressing the importance of being solid family providers while women spoke of nurturing and relational responsibilities in line with traditional notions of femininity.

Conclusion

The experience of living with irritable bowel syndrome differs between men and women due to differing societal expectations, life situation and the everyday construction of gender identities. Gender stereotyping by healthcare professionals perpetuates rather than alleviates the suffering experienced by men and women with irritable bowel syndrome. In healthcare encounters, women risk being trivialized and men risk being overlooked due to the ‘female health concern’ label attached to irritable bowel syndrome.