Top Ten IBS Relief Tips

IBS Relief

ill woman
BSIP/UIG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Unlike many other health conditions, IBS relief does not often happen by taking one simple medication. Instead, people who have IBS typically use a variety of strategies to reduce their symptoms. The recommendations in the following slides contain the approaches that I believe to be the most helpful and that I recommend to friends, family members, and clients, who ask me what they should do for their IBS. Along with your doctor's suggestions, they provide you with some things to consider.

Use Heat

woman sleeping with a hot water bottle on stomach
Westend61/Getty Images

There are two wonderfully soothing options here - a heating pad or a hot water bottle. Each of them offers a unique advantage: A heating pad provides heat that is a little stronger than that of a hot water bottle. However, a hot water bottle provides a safe option for use while you are asleep.

Either option is so simple - just place the pad or bottle on the part of your tummy that feels the worst. Whichever option you use, be sure to protect your skin with a layer or two of clothing to prevent burns. 

In addition to the psychological benefits of warm heat, you can feel good about the fact that there is research to suggest that the use of external heat can provide pain relief. 

Sip Some Soothing Tea

woman sipping tea
Luka/Cultura/Getty Images

Like your warm heating pad or hot water bottle, a cup of herbal tea provides some well-needed psychological soothing. However, herbal teas bring something else to the table! Several types of herbal teas have traditionally been thought to contain ingredients that ease digestive symptoms. 

Peppermint tea is a great option if you are in pain, while anise and fennel teas may help ease constipation.

Take a Probiotic Supplement

man taking a pill
Rolf Bruderer/Blend Images/Getty Images

The old saying "the best thing since sliced bread" sums up how I feel about probiotics for IBS. These so-called "friendly" bacteria appear to help to balance the bacteria within the gut. Best yet, there doesn't seem to be a downside. Definitely worth a try. The strain with the most research support to date is Bifidobacterium infantis. As with any over-the-counter supplement, be sure to check with your doctor for clearance before purchasing.

Did you know that you can also get your probiotics in with food? Fermented foods are those that are prepared in a way that they contain various strains of gut-friendly probiotics. Fermented foods are not as exotic as they sound - yogurt and sauerkraut (fresh, not canned!) are two popular examples.

Keep a Food Diary

man writing in a diary
Tetra Images - Yuri Arcurs/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Do you know how sometimes you can eat something and be fine, while on another day the same food has you doubling over in pain? One way to take out some of the randomness of your symptoms is through the use of a food diary.  All you have to do is to keep a quick written account of what foods you are eating along with other external factors (stress, sleep, menstrual cycle) that might be contributing to your distress. This written record may help you to identify some patterns that you are not yet aware of.

Learn What You Can and Can't  Eat

woman looking at a menu
Sollina Images/Blend Images/Getty Images

You are not crazy if you think that the foods you are eating are contributing to the problem. There are two basic directions you could go in:

1. Look into the low-FODMAP Diet

The low-FODMAP diet is the only diet to have research support for its effectiveness in reducing IBS symptoms. The diet requires that you restrict certain carbohydrates from your diet for a period of time and then slowly add them back to assess your tolerance.

2. Try an Elimination Diet

An elimination diet involves avoiding a potential trigger food for a period of four to eight weeks to assess any effect on your symptoms. At the end of the elimination period, you re-introduce the food to see if it really was causing you a problem.

Looking for more information as to what you can and cannot eat? Click here to find links as to what to eat depending on your worst IBS symptom, e.g. gas, constipation, diarrhea. (You will also find these articles at the end of the slideshow.)

Slowly Increase Your Fiber Intake

small salad
Fotosearch/Getty Images

Many IBS sufferers are unnecessarily afraid of fiber for fear that it will worsen symptoms. Dietary fiber is actually essential for optimal intestinal functioning and can be found in fruits and vegetables.. For sensitive systems, like those with IBS, it is important to increase fiber intake very slowly so as to give your colon time to adjust.

Two things to keep in mind:

  1. Beware of bran, as many IBS sufferers report that it is irritating to the system.
  2. You may find it helpful to start with low-FODMAP fruits and vegetables.

Learn How to Eat

man waiting for food
JGI/Jamie Grill Blend Images/Getty Images

While you may very well find that there are specific foods that make your IBS worse, it may also be worth your time to take a look at your eating habits as they can also have an effect on bowel functioning. Some specific strategies include:

  • Eating foods on a regular, predictable schedule
  • Eating smaller meals 
  • Avoid greasy, fatty foods
  • Avoid gassy foods

Learn Relaxation Exercises

man relaxing on a sofa
Gone Wild/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Since IBS symptoms are often affected by stress, one of the mightiest weapons in your IBS arsenal is the ability to physically calm your body. Regular practice of relaxation exercises helps to lower your baseline anxiety level. In addition, relaxation exercises offer you a way to manage anxiety symptoms in real-time when such anxiety is triggered by external events (such as an IBS attack!)

There are three basic types of exercises -- visualization, deep breathing and muscle relaxation. With a little experimentation, you can decide which work best for you. You will find links for all three types at the end of this slideshow.

Try Guided Imagery for Pain Relief

man sitting with eyes closed
Martin Barraud/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Guided imagery is a technique that involves using the power of the imagination in an attempt to bring about desired changes within the body. Although there is no research specifically endorsing guided imagery for IBS, there is research that guided imagery has eased suffering from a wide variety of human ailments. The nice thing about guided imagery is that it is something that you can try on your own, (or with the help of a trained professional), and the technique is safe.

Get Support

two women therapy session
Blend Images - Ned Frisk/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Let's face it. IBS is stressful! And the stress of IBS often serves to make symptoms worse. 

There is no need to go it alone. A wonderful option is an online IBS support group such as the IBS Self-Help and Support Group. There are also many IBS support groups to be found on Facebook.

Another option is to seek the services of a qualified psychotherapist. This does not mean that your IBS is all in your head. Rather, therapy may be helpful as it targets the connections among outside stressors, your brain, and your gut. In addition, working with a good therapist can help you to better deal with the stress and disruptive nature of IBS.

Two forms of therapy, in particular, have research support for their effectiveness in reducing IBS symptoms:

Continue Reading