Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects more than 200,000 people in the US per year. While not life-threatening, it is a chronic disorder that often causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Anyone with the disorder knows that the symptoms can be painful, frustrating and even debilitating to everyday life. While there is no cure for the disorder, patients can take steps to minimize the effect of their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Diet, stress, activity level can influence the impact IBS symptoms have on individuals. Here, we identify and explain several adjustments patients can make to experience a better quality of life.
The GI tract houses trillions of bacteria that aid in the regular functions of digestion. Doctors have identified only a fraction of these bacteria, but we are starting to better understand their importance. Taking a probiotic supplement can replace beneficial bacteria, make the GI tract less susceptible to infection and may strengthen the immune system.
Changing your Diet
Making small diet changes can help relieve symptoms like gas, bloating and constipation. Patients have reported improvement in their symptoms by doing things such as eliminating gluten, cutting back on processed foods, drinking more water, consuming plant-based diets and eating more fiber. Of course, overhauling your diet overnight is no small task. Start slowly, by actively drinking more water and eating more vegetables. Then, consider cutting out one type of food for a month (i.e., gluten), and see if your symptoms improve. If they do, you may consider continuing this diet. If not, spend the next month avoiding a different type of food (i.e., processed foods), and see if that elimination helps more.
Be Mindful of What You Drink
Increasing your water intake is just the start. Every drink from your morning coffee to your nightcap can influence your IBS symptoms. Coffee and caffeinated beverages can be an irritant for your colon, and those with IBS-D are encouraged to limit their coffee intake to 1-2 cups per day. Dairy products can aggravate stomach cramps and diarrhea, so eliminating milk may help patients experiencing these symptoms. Additionally, alcohol is also known to be an irritant for the GI tract. Patients may consider lowering their intake to one drink per night, especially for rum, ciders, sweet wines and mixers.
Find Ways to De-stress
Of all the things that can worsen IBS symptoms, stress is one of the biggest influencers. Stress triggers stomachaches, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea. Unlike the other triggers discussed here, stress is psychological, and occurs in different ways, at different times, and for different reasons in everyone. Naturally, everyone has different ways to deal with stress. It is important for IBS patients to find effective ways to reduce stress before it causes painful and debilitating symptoms. Patients could try meditation, exercise, walking their dog, doing a hobby they enjoy, having a spa day, watching a movie, or spending time with friends. Even something as small as reading on your lunch break can help you calm your thoughts and readjust your frame of mind. Self care is the most effective way to get ahead of your symptoms.