Of all the chronic conditions you can get, IBS is definitely one of the least glamorous. It’s uncomfortable, affects everyday life, and not exactly the easiest thing to talk about. Thankfully, there are a myriad of treatments you can use to alleviate your symptoms.
#1. Care for Your Mental Health
A happier head may equal a happier tummy. According to the National Institutes of Health, IBS is connected to having a history of stress and trauma, anxiety, depression, and somatic symptom disorder.
If you relate to this, you may want to try psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy may include cognitive behavioral therapy, gut-directed hypnotherapy, and relaxation training. Cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to change your thinking and behavior patterns while gut-hypnotherapy uses hypnosis to treat symptoms. And relaxation can teach you how to effectively reduce stress and relax your muscles.
#2. Take Your Medication
If your doctor prescribes you IBS medication, remember to take it. If you suffer from diarrhea, for example, your doctor may have prescribed you an antibiotic called rifaximin.
Affording medication for a chronic illness like IBS can be an additional stress factor. You can reduce your stress by buying medication online from international and Canadian pharmacy referral services like Canada Med Pharmacy. Due to stricter price regulation, other countries often offer pharmaceutical drugs at significantly lower prices than the United States.
#3. Avoid Certain Foods
Your doctor may recommend avoiding certain foods for a period of time to see if your symptoms improve. For example, you may need to avoid the following, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD):
- Gluten, a protein present in barley, wheat, and rye
- Caffeine and coffee
- Chocolate and nuts
- Large meals and high-fat foods that significantly affect the gut
- FODMAPS (fermentable oligo-saccharides, disaccharides, mono-saccharides, and polyols), such as wheat and rye, dairy, some fruits and vegetables, and sweeteners that end with –ol like sorbitol
FODMAPS are foods that contain carbohydrates that are difficult to absorb, conducive to gas, and problematic for IBS symptoms. Since there is no one-size-fits-all diet for IBS, ask your doctor or dietitian for guidance before embarking on a low-FODMAP diet. You may not need to cut out all FODMAPs.
#4. Eat Fiber
Eat more fiber. Fiber allows you to produce softer stools and may even relieve constipation.
The National Institutes of Health recommends people with IBS eat soluble fiber (though both insoluble and soluble are good). Foods that contain insoluble fiber include whole-grain foods and vegetables. Foods with soluble fiber include beans, fruit, and oats.
Eating too much fiber at once can produce gas, so add fiber to your diet slowly over time.
#5. Practise Good Sleep Hygiene
IBS symptoms can affect sleep quality, and sleep is fundamental to your everyday wellness, productivity, and quality of life. The IFFGD offers the following suggestions for better sleep:
- Relax before bed
- Limit bedroom use to sleep and intimacy
- Get up and do something that makes you sleepy (i.e., reading) if you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes
- Avoid caffeine within four hours before bed
- Exercise during the day
- Avoid napping during the day
If sleeping becomes a serious problem for you, make sure you inform your doctor, because sleep is essential to overall health.
#6. Keep a Food Diary
Keeping a food diary for an extended period of time will help you and your health-care team narrow down what triggers your IBS symptoms. You should also jot down the quality of your stools (such as whether they are soft or hard) and any other symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, gas, abdominal pain, and other sensations.
#7. Be Alert for New Symptoms
IBS affects different people differently, is lifelong, and can be very unpredictable. Therefore, you should watch out for big changes that may warrant a visit to the doctor. The following symptoms may require further investigation:
- A new, different sort of pain
- Unintended weight loss
- Bloody stool
- New symptoms that start at age 50 or older
- Symptoms at night that wake you up
If you have a family history of gastrointestinal diseases like IBS, celiac disease, or cancer, you will want to pay attention to new symptoms, as you are more at risk for these.
#8. Learn to Say No
Sometimes, symptoms may get so bad that you have to miss out on an activity. When this happens, don’t be afraid to say no. You’re better off taking care of yourself at home than being miserable outside.
If IBS gets in the way of your work, you may want to discuss workplace accommodations for your illness. This may seem like a scary conversation, but try to approach your employer with a few solutions to suggest. You don’t need to go into detail about your symptoms. Just mention how the symptoms get in the way of you effectively doing your job, and focus on finding an accommodation that will allow you to be a better worker.
Missing out on the fun events in life can be difficult, too. If you were really looking forward to the social event you had planned, suggest rescheduling it with your friends or moving it to a location closer to you. If that’s unfeasible, you can always Skype your friends from the comfort of your own home, or even host them at your place. The point is, don’t let IBS get in the way of doing the things you love.
#9. Don’t Let IBS Restrict You
Learning about all these IBS rules can be depressing. You want to enjoy delicious foods and have a good night’s sleep like anyone else, and you deserve to. Here are a few tips to make life a little easier:
- Keep a portable list of foods to avoid
- Learn new recipes using foods that don’t trigger your IBS
- Think of your new diet as replacing one food with another instead of seeing it as a list of restrictions
- Be candid with your doctor —they are a medical professional and shouldn’t embarrass you
- Bring extra tissue paper, a change of clothes, and change (for pay-to-use toilets) with you at all times when traveling
- Keep learning about IBS
Finally, be kind to yourself. Living with a chronic illness is not easy. Try to remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can in the face of challenge.