Living with IBS

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2024

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an illness that affects both your physical and mental health. It can be challenging to manage your symptoms and their impact. But doing so can improve your quality of life.1,2

Learn your IBS triggers

Figuring out what sets off your IBS symptoms and avoiding these triggers is the key to managing the condition. IBS triggers include:1,3

  • Food. Certain foods and drinks can make your IBS worse. Wheat, dairy, citrus fruit, beans, cabbage, milk, and carbonated drinks are known IBS triggers. It is also possible that specific symptoms could get worse or better by changing your diet. For example, cutting out sugar and caffeine while consuming more fiber may help if you have constipation.
  • Stress. The more stressed you are, the worse your IBS symptoms may get. People with a history of abuse may also be at risk of the illness.

To learn your personal IBS triggers, keep a journal. Try to record how you slept, what you ate, and your stress levels along with your symptoms. Your symptoms might include:1,4

  • Pain
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Changes to how your bowel movements look or how often you have them

Complementary treatments

Diet and lifestyle changes are the main ways to control your IBS symptoms. But you may also find relief through complementary therapies, including:1,5

  • Hypnosis. You will learn how to enter into a relaxed state. Thich could help loosen your abdominal (ab) muscles to ease pain and bloating.
  • Peppermint. Peppermint oil taken as a pill can relieve bloating, the need to use the bathroom, stomach pain, and other pain.
  • Probiotics. You can find these good bacteria in foods like yogurt and dietary supplements. They may ease stomach pain, bloating, and diarrhea.
  • Lowering stress. You can use books, classes, or videos to try out yoga or meditation. These activities may ease stress and IBS symptoms.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying these therapies. Your doctor may have more information about how well a specific therapy works. They can also tell you about possible side effects.5

Prepare for IBS symptoms

The impact of IBS goes beyond your medical symptoms. Many people with the illness say their quality of life is diminished. It may affect your social life. And research shows you are likely to miss 3 times as many workdays as those without bowel symptoms.1,2

There are ways to prepare for an IBS flare-up and avoid problems. Here are some tips:2

  • Find the nearest bathroom. When you are in public, look for the closest bathroom and try to sit near it.
  • Look over the menu. If you are planning to eat out, try to take a look at the menu before heading to the restaurant. If you do not see any foods that allow you to control your symptoms, you can eat at home first.
  • Prepare for emergencies. Keep clean underwear and clothes, toilet paper, wet wipes, and a large plastic bag with you at all times.

Get support

Talking to someone about your IBS diagnosis can make a difference in your mental health and controlling your symptoms. Consider talking to a mental health professional or trusted friends and family members. You may want to talk about how IBS has impacted your life and any stress, abuse, or trauma that may play a role in your symptoms.2,6

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