Living with IBS can be a rollercoaster ride - symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation and pain can come and go and can often be unpredictable in their intensity and duration. For some these symptoms can be mild and manageable, while for others they can be severe and debilitating. Due to this unpredictability it can be difficult to attend school or work, plan social events or even leave the house.
One of the biggest challenges of living with IBS is dealing with the stigma that surrounds the condition as IBS is still not well understood or talked about. People you know may not take it seriously or may think that it’s “all in your head”. This can be incredibly frustrating for people with IBS who may feel isolated and misunderstood.
Another challenge is finding the right treatment for your symptoms. As IBS is a complex condition there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Some people may find relief from dietary changes while others may need medication or therapy. It can take time and patience to find the right combination of treatments that work for you but persistence is key.
Despite these challenges, it is possible to live well with IBS. Here are some tips and strategies for managing symptoms and living a happy, fulfilling life with IBS.
It is really helpful to educate yourself as much as possible about the condition. Try to learn about the different types of IBS, what causes them and what triggers symptoms. When you understand your condition you are better able to make better decisions about your treatment and you will feel more in control of your symptoms.
Keep a Symptom Journal
Keeping a journal of your symptoms can be a helpful tool in managing IBS. Write down when you experience symptoms, what you ate that day, and any other relevant factors such as stress or exercise. Over time you find you will start to see patterns emerge which will help you identify triggers for your symptoms.
Stress and anxiety can trigger IBS symptoms, so practicing mindfulness can be helpful in managing symptoms. Mindfulness techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. You may also find it helpful to practice mindfulness while eating, taking time to chew slowly and savor your food.
Experiment with Diet
Dietary changes can be effective in managing IBS symptoms. The low FODMAP diet is a popular diet that has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms for many people with IBS. This diet involves avoiding certain types of carbohydrates that can be difficult to digest, such as those found in onions, garlic, wheat, and beans. Working with a registered dietitian who is knowledgeable about the low FODMAP diet can be really helpful in making sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need while still managing symptoms. If the low FODMAP diet doesn’t help there are many other IBS diets that are able to offer relief for IBS symptoms such as the BRAT diet, Whole30 diet and SCD diet,
Drinking plenty of water can help keep your digestive system functioning properly and can also help prevent constipation. As there is no set amount of water to drink try to keep drinking water throughout the day particularly when you feel thirsty - you know your body the best. A helpful tip is to carry a water bottle with your throughout the day as a reminder to stay hydrated.
Get Regular Exercise
Exercise can help reduce stress and promote healthy digestion. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week such as walking, swimming, or cycling. Be careful of the type of exercise you’re doing as some types of exercise may aggravate IBS symptoms. High-intensity exercise or activities that involve a lot of bouncing or jarring, such as running, may be uncomfortable for some people. Experiment with different types of exercise to see what works best for you.
Talk to Your Doctor
If you are struggling with IBS symptoms it is important that you speak to your doctor. Your doctor can help determine the best course of treatment for your symptoms - whether it’s medication, dietary changes, therapy or a mixture. Your GP will also be able to refer you to a specialist such as a gastroenterologist or a registered dietitian. These specialists will have treated many IBS patients and will have tailored strategies to help you.
Join a Support Group
Living with IBS can feel isolating but you don’t have to go through it alone. Joining a support group is a great way to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. You can share tips and strategies for managing symptoms, and you may find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.
Living with IBS can be challenging, but it’s possible to manage symptoms and live a happy, fulfilling life. By educating yourself about the condition, keeping a symptom journal, practicing mindfulness, experimenting with diet, staying hydrated, getting regular exercise, talking to your doctor, and joining a support group, you can take control of your symptoms and live well with IBS. Remember, you are not alone, and there is hope for a better tomorrow.