Coping with irritable bowel syndrome
Living with irritable bowel syndrome can be challenging, painful, and embarrassing, and it can affect your quality of life. We have compiled some ways to cope with the condition that may help to take the edge off the unpleasant symptoms you experience from irritable bowel syndrome.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects more than 10 percent of adults in the United States, only 5 to 7 percent of whom have received a diagnosis. The condition is twice as likely to occur in women than men and usually happens in people aged 45 and younger.
IBS causes abdominal discomfort, gas, and changes in the patterns of your bowel movements, as well as diarrhea or constipation. The cause of IBS is largely unknown, which hampers the development of effective treatments.
However, there seem to be common triggers for IBS, such as certain foods, stress, and hormonal changes, although these can vary from person to person.
Working out what sparks and eases your IBS can help you to manage the condition and regain control of your life. Here are five steps you can take to avoid triggers, prevent symptom flare-ups, and cope with IBS.
1. Alter your diet
Making simple changes to your diet can often provide relief from your IBS symptoms. There is no specific IBS diet as such, and what works for one person may not work for another. Diet-related changes that will work best for you will depend on your symptoms and your reaction to particular foods.
Keeping a food diary can help you to identify the foods that either improve or exacerbate your symptoms. Track the foods that you eat, the symptoms you have, and when they occur.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, foods and drinks that have been shown to worsen IBS symptoms include:
- high-fat foods
- some milk products
- alcoholic drinks
- drinks high in artificial sweeteners
- beans, cabbage, and other gas-causing foods
The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders also highlight insoluble fiber, chocolate, and nuts as foods that are likely to cause problems.
Increasing your fiber intake may help to improve your symptoms of constipation caused by IBS. Foods that contain fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Adults are recommended to consume 22 to 34 grams of fiber each day.
When adding more fiber to your diet, slowly increase the amount by 2 to 3 grams per day. Adding too much fiber to your diet in one go can cause gas and bloating and make you feel even more abdominal discomfort.
Low FODMAP diet
If you experience bloating, a low fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAP) diet may be effective. These are all types of carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. There are five groups of FODMAPs:
- galacto-oligosaccharides, including chickpeas, lentils, soy products, and kidney beans
- lactose, including cow’s milk, ice cream, yogurt, and cottage cheese
- excess fructose, including apples, mangoes, pears, watermelon, and honey
- polyols, including nectarines, peaches, plums, cauliflower, and mushrooms
Researchers suggest that FODMAPs increase water in the small intestine, which may contribute to the loose stools and diarrhea in IBS.
What is more, FODMAPs pass into the large intestine, where billions of bacteria ferment them, resulting in gas and bloating. Reducing your FODMAP intake may improve these symptoms.