How to Ease Stomach Pain from IBS

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Dealing with Stomach Pain

girl on couch with hot water bottle
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Whether you are experiencing stomach pain due to IBS or you are just having a bad tummy day, you may find some comfort in the fact that there are some things you can do to soothe yourself and ease your pain. 

Note: Any recurrent abdominal pain needs to be brought to the attention of your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Strong abdominal pain can be an indicator of a serious health condition that needs immediate medical attention.Just to be on the safe side, check out the following article:

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1. Use Heat

Woman in bed with heating pad
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Applying warmth to your belly will not only help to soothe you psychologically, but it can also speed up pain relief. Research indicates that best results are achieved with low-level continuous heat. 

There are a variety of ways that you can apply heat to your abdomen - it just depends on personal preference and where you happen to be:

1. Heating pad (protect your skin with clothing or a towel)

2. Hot water bottle - great for overnight use!

3. Sports creams (topical  pain relievers) 

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2. Sip a Cup of Tea

close-up of a tea cup being held by a woman
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Like a heating pad, there is something soothing about a nice cup of tea. Each of the following types of tea have a reputation for soothing digestive distress. Keep your pantry well-stocked and keep some with you at all times so that you'll have some handy when your tummy acts up.

  • Peppermint tea (best choice!)
  • Chamomile tea (soothing but not appropriate for a low-FODMAP diet)
  • Anise tea (good for constipation)
  • Fennel tea (good for constipation, but high-FODMAP)

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3. Eat Carefully

bowl of broth
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If your belly is hurting due to digestion problems, you will not want to make things worse by making it work too hard. What to eat?

  1. Broth
  2. Lean protein (chicken, turkey, pork)
  3. Lactose-free yogurt
  4. Steamed vegetables

What not to eat?

  1. Large, heavy meals
  2. Greasy meals
  3. Gassy foods
  4. High-FODMAP foods

Once your pain has eased, you can slowly go back to eating your regular diet. If you have IBS and your stomach pain is chronic, you will want to find an ongoing way of eating that helps, and doesn't worsen your symptoms:

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4. Try an Over-the-Counter Supplement

Woman shopping in a drugstore
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There are some products available without a prescription that may help to ease your pain. You may want to keep some with you at all times to reach for when pain strikes. Here are two helpful options:

1. Peppermint oil: Peppermint oil has research support for its effectiveness as an antispasmodic, meaning that it reduces muscle spasms and cramping and therefore eases pain.

2. Gas-relieving products: If your abdominal pain feels more like trapped gas than cramping, you may get relief by taking a product containing simethicone.

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5. Calm Your Mind and Your Body

woman relaxing on couch
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This does not mean that your pain is all in your head! But, rightly so, when we are in pain, we tend to get anxious. Unfortunately, anxiety brings with it a heightened state of physical arousal that can make our pain worse.

Relaxation exercises are a way to break through this cycle as they offer you a way to "turn off" this state of heightened physical arousal. Of course, they work better with regular practice, but they can still offer some benefits to you while you are in pain now. Here are a few to try:

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6. Use Your Imagination

man with eyes closed
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Believe it or not, you can soothe your body and promote healing through the use of healing imagery. This is not just hocus-pocus, there is actually research to support that engaging your imagination can lead to physical changes within your body and lessen your experience of pain. Of course it will not be as powerful as, say, morphine, but every little bit of pain relief can help.

After you have calmed your body with relaxation exercises, stimulate your imagination and conjure up some magical, soothing pain relieving images.  Here are some possibilities, but feel free to let your imagination soar:

  • Imagine a white healing light coming into your body and swirling all around your belly, healing and soothing your aggravated digestive tract.
  • Imagine that the pain is a hard ball of wax that is slowly melting as you envision a warm, healing heat spreading through the area.
  • Imagine that a soft, healing balm is making its way through your colon, serving to cool, soothe and calm the inflamed tissue.

For more ideas, see "Guided Imagery for IBS Pain Relief".

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7. Listen to a Hypnotherapy Recording

woman with earbuds in
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Hypnosis has strong research support for easing the symptoms of IBS, including abdominal pain. Ideally you would want to be engaged in a ongoing hypnotherapy treatment program for best results. But for now while you are in immediate pain, you may still be able to benefit from the relaxation that you can receive from listening to a gut-directed hypnosis tape.

You could do  a quick search on your smartphone for a pain-relieving hypnosis app, or check out these two research-supported products:

Sources:

Gatchel, R. & Turk, D. “Psychological Approaches to Pain Management” (1996) The Guilford Press: New York.

Jaffe, D. & Bresler, D. “The Use of Guided Imagery as an Adjunct to Medical Diagnosis and Treatment” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 1980 20:46-53.

O’Connor, A. & McCarberg, B. “ A New Look at Heat Treatment for Pain Disorders, Part 2” American Pain Society Bulletin 2005 15.

Palsson, O. "Hypnosis Treatment of Gastrointestinal Disorders: A Comprehensive Review of the Empirical Evidence" American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 2015 134-58.

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