Tips to Live By

5 Ways to Take Control of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Oct. 21, 2019

You may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) if you frequently experience digestive discomfort or unpredictable bowel movements force you to stay close to a restroom. Or perhaps your digestive system is so temperamental you’re afraid to travel.

IBS, often called spastic colon, is a common intestinal disorder that causes:

Don't let embarrassment of IBS symptoms cause you to to suffer in silence instead of seeking treatment.

Start by getting to the root of the problem

“The condition occurs when the delicate interplay among the nerves, hormones and electrical activity that link the bowel and the brain is disrupted,” says Dr. Rashid Khan, a gastroenterologist at Houston Methodist.

If you’ve never before thought about the brain and stomach connection, imagine the butterflies you feel before making a speech, or the bellyache that might come on during a heated argument.

“In IBS, pain sensors in the colon are more sensitive than normal, causing them to respond strongly to stimuli that don’t affect most people,” Dr. Khan says.

A breakfast of scrambled eggs and milk can spell disaster for those with the disorder, for example.

5 tips for reducing IBS symptoms

1. See your doctor as soon as symptoms appear. Since IBS signs can mimic those of a serious disease, your doctor must rule out any underlying disorder. If you do receive an IBS diagnosis, your doctor will know what course of treatment is best for you, such as lifestyle modifications that help control diarrhea and constipation or recommending over-the-counter medications that help ease symptoms.

2. Identify the foods that bring on symptoms and discuss them with your doctor. Keeping a food symptom diary can help you identify the foods that trigger your IBS symptoms. Scale back your intake of these foods. Common culprits are: dairy products, caffeine, high-fiber foods, fatty foods and alcohol. Many nutrients you need may be in the foods you avoid, so be sure to make healthy substitutions.

3. Limit spicy foods. These foods don't just trigger heartburn, they can also irritate the large intestine and exacerbate IBS symptoms.

4. Try eating a few small meals throughout the day. Large meals increase the chance of  cramping and diarrhea.

5. Control tension levels. High stress levels can trigger IBS symptoms because of the brain-bowel connection. Go for a daily walk, talk with a friend, restart an old hobby or listen to music to unwind.

Antidiarrheals and laxatives may help ease symptoms, but they are not always long-term solutions. Your doctor can help you understand the lifestyle changes that should be made, how to use over-the-counter medications responsibly and whether prescription medications may needed.

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Categories: Tips to Live By