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Bladder & Bowel
Coping With IBS
- By Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be painful, annoying, and embarrassing. There is currently no cure for this complex condition, and managing its symptoms and flare-ups is tricky. So, coping mechanisms are a constant need.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder in which your gut becomes more sensitive, and the muscles of your digestive system have abnormal contractions. People with IBS usually have abdominal pain along with frequent changes in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or alternating between both). Other common symptoms include
- bloating and gas
- urge to move the bowels, but being unable to do so
- incomplete bowel movements
- urgent need to move the bowels.
Because no one knows what causes IBS, it is impossible to prevent it. Once you have been diagnosed, the goal is to focus on managing the condition. You can do this by identifying specific triggers of your IBS symptoms and then adopting strategies to make them less severe and frequent.
The most common approaches are dietary changes — eliminating or reducing problem foods — and stress management techniques, such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Certain supplements and over-the-counter and prescription medications also can help. Your doctor can help you implement these strategies and advise what medications to take.
Coping with IBS day-to-day
People often need additional assistance, especially when it comes to coping with the awkwardness and emotional turmoil of living with IBS. Here are some ways to get the extra support you may require.
Join a support group. Talking with others who are dealing with IBS can help you cope with your disorder’s stress and anxiety. The online community Irritable Bowel Syndrome Self Help and Support Group offers moral support and information, including news about recent studies on IBS.
Prepare for public outings. Don’t let IBS keep you from enjoying an active social life. Being mindful about your IBS can help you avoid potential problems. For example, always note the nearest bathroom and try to sit close to it. When eating out, try to review the menu in advance. If there are no agreeable meals, you can eat beforehand. Also, don’t be afraid to call it an early night if your IBS is acting up. People will understand if you say you are simply not feeling well.
Share with someone. Not everyone needs to know about your IBS, but tell a few friends and coworkers so they can cover for you when symptoms appear.
Have an emergency kit on hand. Always keep spare underwear, clothing, toilet paper, wet wipes, and a large plastic bag on hand just in case.
Don’t rush bowel movements. This can help reduce the stress of having to use the bathroom all the time. Set aside a regular time or times each day to have a bowel movement. Give yourself the time you need so you can relax. When you push, be sure to avoid excessive straining. It can help to elevate your feet using a footstool.
About the Author
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
You might also be interested in…
Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder in which your gut becomes more sensitive and the muscles of your digestive system have abnormal contractions that affect your bowel movements. IBS cannot be cured, but the good news is it can be managed to minimize the effect on your overall health and quality of life. This report explores how your digestive system works and what science knows about this mysterious disorder. We’ll cover the types of IBS, how it’s diagnosed, and best of all, what you can do to control IBS instead of having it control you.
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