If you are fed up with IBS symptoms putting a downer on your social life, it is time to take action. It is understandable that you may feel anxious to leave the house if your stomach is in knots and you may feel embarrassed if you keep having to run to the toilet when out with friends. However, simple lifestyle choices could help relieve your symptoms and there may be other solutions you haven’t considered.
IBS is thought to affect as many as 20% of the UK population and is particularly common amongst young women.
There is currently no cure and scientists don’t really even know the exact cause. Although, there is a general belief that IBS could be caused, or at least triggered, by psychological issues such as anxiety and stress.
These psychological factors are thought to subsequently affect the chemical signal between the brain and the gut.
This could be why some IBS sufferers end up in a vicious circle when it comes to their social life.
Do you worry so much about your IBS symptoms flaring up whilst you are at a social gathering that this could be causing your symptoms to worsen?
Many IBS sufferers report that they often need to rush to the toilet, and experience diarrhoea when anxious or under pressure.
This is not to say that IBS is “in the mind” as real chemical changes occur in the human body when in a stressful situation.
A study by Bio Med Central showed that people suffering from IBS had a greater level of absence from work and reduced work productivity, demonstrating that it isn’t just your social life that can be affected, it is life in general.
When you suffer from a condition like IBS, it is important that you take extra care of yourself and do the things within your control to better manage your symptoms.
Learning about what aggravates and alleviates your IBS symptoms can hold the key to leading a more “normal” life.
Keep a diary every day of the foods you eat, drinks you drink and the activities you do. Make a careful note of how you feel each day too and whether you have any flare-ups of symptoms. Try to correlate if something may have caused certain symptoms – for example, were you sitting an exam and then noticed you had stomach cramps?
There may not be any patterns, particularly to start with. However, if you are patient, over time it may be possible to highlight areas of concern, either linked to what you consume, what you do or how you feel.
There are certain foods that are common in aggravating IBS symptoms. These include alcohol, fizzy drinks, chocolate, tea, coffee and processed or fatty foods. If you notice that these foods and drinks bring on symptoms, or just make you feel lethargic in general, then avoid them.
It may be useful to also assess your fibre levels and consider a probiotic to help improve your digestive health.
Eating well isn’t just about what you consume, it is about your eating habits. Make sure when you do eat that you have sufficient time for your food to digest. Don’t eat when you are anxious, worried or stressed either, as this hinders the digestive process.
Clearly, life delivers an element of stress. However, if you suffer from IBS be sure to include relaxing activities each day to reduce the level of stress you experience.
This may include mediation and mindfulness activities, reading or playing music – whatever allows you to switch off and be calm.
If you have a particularly stressful job or have unresolved personal issues then seek to tackle the cause of the problem, rather than just continue to suffer in silence.
A significant proportion of IBS sufferers won’t seek help from a specialist doctor.
It is not only important to explore all your options regarding managing your IBS symptoms, which may include prescribed medication.
It is also vital to eliminate the risk of your symptoms being the cause of another gastroenterological condition such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
With many digestive disorders, symptoms are similar and it is only by the correct diagnosis that you will be able to ensure you are receiving the best treatment.
Working with a specialist that can refer to you a registered dietician and monitor your symptoms, will give you the best chance to get back to feeling your best.