Womens Health

Coping with Irritable Bowel Syndrome


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is characterized by abnormal bowel muscle motility. Some people may have predominately loose stools and diarrhea with more than three bowel movements per day, while others may have more a picture of constipation with less than three bowel movements per week. This syndrome often produces pain and abdominal cramps due to the abnormal bowel motility and the pain may either lessen with defecation or worsen. The goals of coping with irritable bowel system are to reduce bowel movements to three or less per day or more than three bowel movements per week. A goal is also to lessen the amount of pain that occurs from abnormal bowel motility.

With Predominately Loose Stools

Diet must be changed to avoid any foods which seem to stimulate the bowels. Characteristically a person with irritable bowel syndrome will often have a bowel movement within a short time after eating certain foods. Large meals can make the problem worse. Spicy foods and foods containing a moderate amount of fat will worsen the problem. Diets high in protein and low in simple sugars may help.

You also may need to determine if you have any lactose intolerance. Lactose sugar in milk and milk products can often worsen irritable bowel syndrome. Following a strict no dairy diet for a week or two while monitoring pain and bowel movements may indicate whether you have lactose intolerance. If you find that this is the case, pills are available at the pharmacy and health food stores which contain lactobacillus acidophilus. This bacillus aids in lactose digestion and may be helpful since a strict no dairy diet is very difficult to comply with.

With Predominately Constipation

If a lack of regular bowel movements is a characteristic problem, increasing fiber in the diet and any foods that help put bulk in the stool will lessen the tendency toward constipation. This type of diet should include more fruits such as apricots, dates, figs, blackberries, prunes, raspberries and strawberries. Vegetables such as brussel sprouts, corn, broccoli, parsley are helpful, as well as nuts, beans, lentils and whole grain breads and cereals. Initially such high fiber diets may cause increase abdominal bloating and gas, but within a couple of weeks these tend to go away as your body adjusts to the diet. High carbohydrate meals may also help this as well as fiber supplements such as Metamucil® or Fibercon®.

You may also need to take medications which speed up the motility of the large bowel. This way not as much as water is absorbed as the stool passes through the large bowel and less constipation and in hard stools are formed. Agents which may help speed up bowel motility include lactulose, magnesium sulfate which is a osmotic diuretic, and polyethylene glycol solution.

Coping With Pain from IBS

Since the main problem is increased bowel muscle motility, very much like the colic that a newborn baby may experience, prescription medications may be necessary in addition to dietary changes. If after making adjustments with your diet, pain is still a predominant problem, discuss with your physician about taking some of the medications which have been shown to decrease pain in irritable bowel syndrome.

Stress Reduction

Any type of stress will worsen irritable bowel syndrome. The bowel responds to any fear or stress that you perceive. General techniques of stress relaxation may improve the pain due to irritable bowel syndrome. Learn to identify what people and what situations seem to cause your stress. Work on changing your thought process as much as possible to realize that most external stressors are not really your problem. Combine this with stress relaxation techniques when you can not avoid those external stressors.

Putting It All Together

One of the best ways to diagnose the triggers that cause the symptoms of IBS is to keep a detailed daily diary. In such a diary record the contents of each of your meals and when you experience pain and experience bowel movements. Also try to note any events taking place that increase your stress levels. Once you look at about 2 to 3 weeks of such a diary, there will be some obvious answers as to how to improve the irritable bowel symptoms on your own.

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