It can be humiliating and distressing. About 2,000 people here suffer from chronic conditions which get them running to the toilet constantly, with very little time to spare.
Now, sufferers are hoping they will be able to flash a card to get priority in toilet queues, while side-stepping embarrassing explanations.
The orange "Can't Wait" card - already accepted widely in places such as Britain, Australia and Canada - is being distributed here by the Crohn's and Colitis Society Singapore, and will be launched today. It will be given to 100 patients for a start.
Patients with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis can suffer from severe stomachaches and diarrhoea, and may need the toilet up to 20 times a day during a flare-up. Even when their conditions are controlled by medicine, they might get the runs five to six times a day.
Ms Rosie Foo, 62, has lost track of the number of times she has not made it to the loo in time.
Several years ago, it happened while she waited in line at an Orchard Road mall toilet.
"Just paiseh (Hokkien for embarrassed) lah," said the petite, well-manicured housewife.
"I didn't want to offend those who had been queueing for some time."
She never leaves home without a spare change of clothes and wears flat shoes in case she needs to dash to the toilet. Adult diapers might be one solution, but it is hard to predict when flare-ups start, explained Ms Foo, who did not leave home for five years when she was first diagnosed with Crohn's disease, for fear of toilet woes.
Doctors have yet to pin down the causes of both conditions, which have no cure. Cases have risen exponentially, from nine documented cases in the 1980s to over 1,500 currently, said Dr David Ong, consultant and clinical director of the National University Hospital's gastroenterology and hepatology division.
"It could partially be due to the Westernisation of our lifestyles - more processed food, more antibiotics, those factors are still being studied," he said.
Financial consultant Jacob Seng, 27, who also suffers from Crohn's disease, said people like him have a "toilet radar", and "every time we go out, we subconsciously look out for toilet signs".
The society's president, Mrs Nidhi Swarup, said the Can't Wait card is needed. "It is an invisible illness, so people don't know if they can trust you if you say you have a problem."
It is partnering the Restroom Association of Singapore, which will work with mall operators to put posters in toilets informing people about the card. "We understand that others might be in a hurry too so we see giving way as a privilege and not a guarantee," said Mrs Swarup, a Crohn's patient herself.
Added Mr Seng: "Like giving up seats to the elderly on public transport, it will take time to change mindsets. But we trust that Singaporeans are kind."
The society is also giving out a new financial assistance package - $600 a year - to help Crohn's or colitis patients who have difficulty making payments, but earn too much to qualify for means-tested public subsidies.
This article was first published on May 16, 2015.
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