Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects one in five people in the UK, according to NHS Choices, although the actual figure is believed to be higher as not everyone with IBS symptoms will see a doctor.
IBS is painful, distressing and can have a significant impact on your quality of life. There is no cure at present for the condition so learning to manage the symptoms is important for sufferers.
April is IBS Awareness Month, so GI Doctors are providing our top survival tips for IBS sufferers to help ease symptoms and manage this condition more effectively.
The symptoms that could indicate you have IBS include: bloating and wind; stomach pain and cramping; diarrhoea; constipation or alternating diarrhoea and constipation; food intolerance; fatigue and problems sleeping.
It is important to see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis as these symptoms are also associated with other more serious gastrointestinal conditions like bowel cancer, so you need to rule these out before concluding that you have IBS.
Knowing that you do not have a more serious underlying condition may actually help to lessen your symptoms as anxiety is known to exacerbate IBS.
Survival tips for IBS sufferers
Other changes that could bring relief from your symptoms are as follows:
(1) Don’t rush your food – eating on the go or bolting down your food can lead to a flare up of IBS symptoms. Make time for meals, eat slowly without gulping down air and try to relax at mealtimes.
(2) Eat regularly – try to have three regular meals a day, without leaving big gaps between eating. Your body will cope better with a regular food intake of roughly the same quantities each time.
(3) Keep a food diary – by writing down what you eat and drink, as well as how you are feeling, you may be able to identify food and drink that cause your symptoms to worsen so you can avoid these in the future. Certain foods are known to trigger IBS symptoms, including starchy foods and lactose. The low FODMAP diet may be helpful for some IBS sufferers.
(4) Avoid too much caffeine – limit caffeinated drinks to around three a day.
(5) Learn to manage stress – stress is believed to play a key role in IBS so it is important to learn to manage stress, as well as looking at yout diet. Finding ways to relax that fit in with your lifestyle could bring about a reduction in your symptoms, as well as having other wellbeing benefits. Among the techniques used by some IBS sufferers are yoga, meditation and walking.
(6) Exercise – as well as helping you to feel better and fitter and maintain a healthy weight, exercising has a positive effect on gut motility so it is helpful for managing constipation. Try to exercise at least three times a week for half an hour at least each time.
(7) Take probiotics – probiotics, or “good bacteria” may help to maintain the balance of flora in the gut. NICE recommends taking a probiotic for at least four weeks to see if it helps with IBS symptoms.
(8) Talk to a gastrointestinal specialist – there is no need to suffer in silence. If you have been diagnosed with IBS, talk to a gastrointestinal specialist who will be able to advise you on the range of treatments that are available, including medication.
If you have an IBS diagnosis or are concerned about your symptoms, talk to us for advice and support.