IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome): Dealing Day-to-Day

Here, some other tips that can help you deal with your irritable bowel syndrome on a day-to-day basis:

  1. Identify your triggers
    Understanding which foods, activities or situations trigger your symptoms can help you reduce or prevent symptoms, minimizing the disruption they can cause. For example, jogging may induce diarrhea in people with diarrhea-predominant IBS. These individuals may want to try other types of exercise, such as walking or swimming.
  2. Learn about IBS
    Knowing as much as possible about your condition may help eliminate fear and help you deal with your symptoms in a more informed manner.
  3. Don't pig out or speed-eat
    Digesting large amounts of food at one time can be difficult for people who have irritable bowel syndrome. Too much food passing through the digestive tract at once can lead to nutrient and fluid absorption problems, triggering symptoms such as cramping and diarrhea. Five or six smaller meals throughout the day may be easier to digest for those with IBS. Moreover, eating meals too quickly can lead to unintentional swallowing of air, causing gas and bloating; IBS sufferers may find they're less prone to such symptoms when they eat slowly.
  4. Remember your fiber
    Fiber adds bulk to stool in your digestive tract, speeding digestion and helping to prevent constipation. In addition, fiber keeps the colon mildly distended, which may help prevent muscle spasms in those with irritable bowel syndrome. It may also improve the consistency of stool, helping to prevent diarrhea. However, too much insoluble fiber may aggravate or cause diarrhea. Your diet should contain enough fiber for easy, painless bowel movements.Fiber should be introduced into your diet gradually to avoid gas and bloating. Supplements may be helpful, since it can be difficult to obtain adequate quantities of fiber through diet alone. Use "bulk-forming" fiber that includes the ingredient psyllium. It can be added to food or liquids and can be purchased over-the-counter.
  5. Exercise and get plenty of sleep
    Exercise such as yoga, walking, tai chi and swimming can help keep your digestive tract functioning normally. This is especially helpful for people with constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. Getting adequate amounts of sleep can help reduce stress and maintain normal physical functioning, including digestion.
  6. Learn to relax
    There are therapies available that are designed to help you relax. Biofeedback trains you to alter your bodily functions, such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure, through relaxation or imagery. Progressive relaxation involves a conscious effort to relax muscles in your body, one by one. Meditation, hypnosis, deep breathing and massage may also help women with irritable bowel syndrome learn to relax so as not to trigger or aggravate IBS symptoms.
  7. Get emotional support
    Developing relationships in which it is possible to talk openly about irritable bowel syndrome and its symptoms can provide emotional release and reduce stress if you have IBS. This can be done with a mental health professional, in a support group or with family members or friends. Talking with others who also have IBS, such as through support groups or Internet chat rooms, can help you realize that you are not alone. If you wish to seek professional help, cognitive behavior therapy may be especially beneficial.
  8. Don't get overcome by stress
    Many nerves inside your intestines connect to your brain. These nerves control functioning and can react adversely to stress. Your intestinal muscles may contract too much or too little, leading to chronic diarrhea or constipation. In people with irritable bowel syndrome, the large intestine appears to be extra-sensitive to emotional stress -- even slight conflict can cause an adverse response in the intestines, triggering IBS symptoms. Individuals with IBS can choose to avoid or remove themselves from stressful situations in their lives. For example, taking a less stressful job and avoiding other stressful environments can help control symptoms.
  9. Be prepared
    People with irritable bowel syndrome can take actions to lessen the awkwardness or embarrassment of IBS symptoms, especially when traveling or socializing. For example, knowing where restrooms are located and choosing seating that is close to the restrooms can save time and help prevent soiling in cases of sudden or urgent diarrhea. Finding out menu choices ahead of time may allow you to eat before an event if the only foods available may aggravate your symptoms.
  10. Don't let your IBS get you down
    A diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome is not a sentence to a life of misery and embarrassment. You can reduce and even prevent your symptoms. And when your symptoms flare, don't let yourself get depressed. Remember that they'll go away and you can work to avoid them in the future.
  11. Communicate with your physician or health care provider
    There are medications and other interventions that may be helpful in terms of symptom relief. Do not get discouraged too quickly. Sometimes, several things have to be tried before the benefit is seen.
  12. Be aware of "red flags"
    Do not ascribe all symptoms to IBS, especially if they are different from prior symptom patterns. IBS symptoms do not include pain that awakens you from sleep, weight loss, blood in stool or recurring vomiting.

Reviewed by David Friedel, M.D., AGA

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