Can You Join the Military With Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome can be an intrusive disorder affecting a person’s quality of life. Onsets of diarrhea and constipation are to be expected on a regular, if not daily, basis. Unrestricted dietary choices, physical exertion, and psychological stress are all known triggers for IBS. 

Consequently, these conditions are also what defines military training. Interested individuals with IBS may find themselves unable to participate in military recruitment. However, IBS patients are still eligible for enlistment provided that they prove themselves healthy enough for training and deployment. 

So, is it possible to join the military even if you have irritable bowel syndrome? Yes, but prospects are suggested to undergo long-term therapy before enlisting for military service

Understanding IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder affecting up to 20% of people in the U.S. IBS is characterized by potentially disruptive symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. 

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition that has no known cure. Symptoms can be triggered and flare up any time. This might be a deterrent to individuals who are thinking of pursuing a career in military service. On the other hand, there are treatments available that can help with symptom management.

Learn more: Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Symptoms and Causes

Quick IBS Facts

  • Estimates suggest that there are up to 45 million IBS patients in the U.S. alone. Women are at a higher risk of developing IBS than men. Some studies suggest that estrogen production may influence IBS development.
  • Links between psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety VS IBS have been proven, which illustrates that patients with IBS live a lower quality of life. Stress is not the primary cause of IBS, but studies do suggest that individuals suffering from psychological disorders are more predisposed to IBS.
  • Although the direct cause of IBS is still unknown, research points to various factors such as the alteration of bacterial environment in the gut, brain-gut miscommunication, and muscle contractions as physiological factors for IBS development. 
  • IBS is considered a “functional disorder” that is typically diagnosed through elimination. IBS does not produce physical alterations (unlike ulcer and IBD) and is only identifiable through a specific diagnosis category referred to as the Rome Criteria.
  • Adults 50 years old and above are at a higher risk of contracting IBS than other people.
  • Although there is no known cure for IBS, patients can undergo medical, dietary, and even psychological intervention to help deal with symptoms. Symptoms are easily manageable with the right attitude towards diet and exercise
  • IBD is not the same as IBS. IBD is used to describe inflammations on the digestive tract, whereas IBS is characterized by an overactive gastrointestinal system that is not caused by inflammation.
  • IBS can’t evolve into a serious condition. IBS does not lead to Crohn’s disease, colon cancer, ulcer, or any other gastrointestinal disorder.

Types of IBS

IBS symptoms are sporadic and can vary depending on the most prominent symptoms specific to a patient’s case. Understanding one’s type of IBS makes it easier to manage the disorder and prepare for military training. 

  1. IBS-C: Type of IBS with constipation as the most predominant symptom. Patients experience frequent bloating and abdominal pain. Bowel movements are delayed and often hard to pass. 
  2. IBS-D: Diarrhea is the most predominant symptom for this type of IBS. Patients experience urgent bowel movements that are often watery and loose. 
  3. IBS-C and D: Both constipation and diarrhea are present. Symptoms alternate and are triggered depending on various lifestyle choices including food and eating habits, exercise, and medication. 

There are medications available for all types of IBS. For diarrhea-heavy IBS, medicines such as eluxadoline and alosetron may be prescribed by doctors to help you manage diarrhea. Abdominal pain is a common side-effect. 

Patients with constipation-dominant IBS can also get medication such as linaclotide and lubiprostone. Both are used to increase fluid uptake in the colon and encourage bowel movement. 

While medications are a crucial part of symptom management, we recommend lifestyle adjustments for long-term benefits. Patients who adopt dietary changes report significant improvements in their symptoms, even without the help of pain relief medicine. 

Medical Requirements For Joining The Military

soldier's plates and a stethoscope

The U.S. Department of Defense laid out various criteria for military eligibility. Medical conditions are listed to help trainees identify whether or not they are qualified for military service. Among automatic disqualifiers are excessive body fat and body mass index, marijuana use, current mental health problems, and injuries to the lower extremities. 

Below are gastrointestinal conditions that may prevent interested individuals from joining the military: 

  • Diagnosed ulcer of the duodenum or stomach as confirmed by an x-ray or endoscopy 
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and ulcerative proctitis
  • Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) also known as chronic acid reflux 
  • Lactase deficiency, but only if this is proven to interfere with everyday function
  • Persistent chronic constipation and/or diarrhea for the past 2 years
  • Acute or chronic hepatitis that is predicted to stay active in six months
  • Apparent liver failure in any way
  • History of cirrhosis, abscess, and cysts from hepatitis
  • Abdominal hernia
  • Large hemorrhoids with active bleeding
  • Any history of anal fissure or fecal incontinence for the past 2 years

IBS and Military Eligibility 

Under section 5.12 Abdominal organs and gastrointestinal system, under small and large intestine, point 9, the document addresses IBS eligibility with the following criteria: 

“History of irritable bowel syndrome of sufficient severity to require frequent intervention or prescription medication or that may reasonably be expected to interfere with military duty”.

Are IBS Patients Allowed to Enlist?

Yes, individuals with IBS are eligible for military service provided that they have their symptoms under control. The criteria state that IBS cases of sufficient severity are grounds for disqualification. 

Patients who have had long-term interventions and haven’t experienced adverse, urgent symptoms for at least 6 months have a high chance of being qualified in military service.

Are There IBS Patients In the Military?

Yes, there are people with IBS serving in the military. Note that these individuals have passed the criteria by proving that they are able to undergo rigorous training without the help of medical intervention. This is made possible through proper diet, exercise, and a long-term plan that has allowed their bowels to resemble normal functions even without constant medication. 

How Can IBS Disqualify You From the Military?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic disease that can be demanding at times. Without proper planning, symptoms can flare-up and affect everyday living. Military training will be strenuous both psychologically and physically — both of which are known triggers for IBS. 

Symptom flare-ups will interfere with training and could be grounds for dismissal. Before applying to the military, it’s crucial to take necessary precautions to ensure that you maximize your chances at entering military service. 

Joining the Military with IBS

soldier salute on sunrise background

Talk to a Recruiter

Your local recruiter may have more information regarding the specifics of joining the military with IBS. A history of IBS diagnosis and treatment will be necessary to inform the recruiter regarding your case. Treatment options, methods, and evidence of success are key in ensuring you pass the interview and are allowed to train for the service. 

Know Your Triggers

The first step to overcoming IBS symptoms is knowing your triggers. The top triggers for IBS include: 

  • Food and Dietary Habits: Foods high in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAP) are known to cause flare-ups. A low-FODMAP diet that doesn’t involve dairy, synthetic sweeteners, legumes, and wheat, to name a few, are key in managing symptoms, especially diarrhea. Adopting new eating habits such as eating more times in a day in smaller quantities can help take the stress off your digestive system. 
  • Stress: Undergoing a stress therapy session can provide improvements to symptoms in as little as four months. Learning everyday stress relief techniques can help you from triggering IBS symptoms during the training period. 
  • Physical Exertion: Patients experiencing aggravated symptoms from physical exertion are often linked to unmanaged stress and dietary triggers. The evidence of IBS patients in military service show that it’s possible to undergo strenuous training provided that other factors for symptom flare-ups have been taken care of. 
  • Medication: Various medications, both OTC and prescription drugs, are available to help with pain and symptom management. We suggest talking to a gastroenterologist for specialized medicine. 

Keep in mind that prescription medication will not be allowed during military training so it’s essential that you learn how to manage your symptoms even without medication. 

Learn more: What Makes Irritable Bowel Syndrome Worse?

Follow a Program

soldiers jogging

A study shows how aspiring military servants with IBS can still make for great candidates with the help of lifestyle modification. This research includes 89 participants who were diagnosed with IBS on their first screening. Scientists found that 63% of the group reported improved symptoms after military training. 

The participants were banned from alcohol and nicotine consumption. Regular exercises such as jogging and muscle training were included in their daily routine. Other military trainings such as marching and shooting were also included. All participants followed regular hours. 

Scientists found symptom improvement in the following areas: 

  • Improvement in bowel habits (62.9% of participants)
  • Improved pain score for abdominal discomfort
  • More participants reported normal stool consistency 
  • Stool frequency and urgency were reduced

This study illustrates that military training can even improve IBS symptoms provided that a person’s case of IBS is not severe.

Following long-term lifestyle changes is necessary in managing IBS symptoms. Without these modifications, IBS patients have a lower chance of enlisting in the military and serving their country due to unprecedented flare-ups

Learn How to Manage Your IBS

At Gastro Center NJ, we can help you enlist in the military by creating a long-term plan for controlling your IBS symptoms. We believe that chronic diseases, no matter how seemingly disruptive, can be monitored, controlled, and eventually resolved with the right treatment plan. 

Get in touch with us today.