10 Tips for Living With IBS

  • closeup of woman holding stomach
    Take control.
    If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you understand all too well how the condition can affect your life—from work and travel plans to personal relationships. But you have the ability to take control of your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Here are 10 tips for living with IBS to get you started.

  • Woman talking with doctor
    1. Find a doctor who meets your needs.
    When it comes to IBS, one treatment approach does not fit all. To find a treatment that works for your unique symptoms and triggers, it’s important to work closely with your doctor. This can be a primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist, depending on the severity of your IBS. A gastroenterologist specializes in diagnosing and treating digestive system problems. You can research doctors who treat IBS at Healthgrades.com.

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    2. Pinpoint your triggers.
    It’s important to understand how your body reacts to IBS. To learn your IBS triggers, keep a diary for a few weeks. Track your diet, stress levels, exercise, medications, bowel habits, and symptoms. Then, look for patterns. For example, you might learn that fried foods cause your symptoms to get worse. Knowing your personal triggers can help you avoid them.

  • Veggies and Hummus
    3. Eat smaller meals more often.
    Many people with IBS experience problems after eating a meal. Normally, eating stimulates the digestive tract, but in IBS it can overreact to a meal. And large meals tend to over-stimulate even a normal digestive tract. If you have symptoms after meals, you may need to get out of the three-meals-a-day mindset. Instead, space out your daily intake to five or six mini-meals during a day.

  • happy man holding up bowl of food at family gatheirng around dinner table
    4. Take it slow.
    Gas can be an embarrassing problem for people with IBS. To combat this, reduce the amount of air you swallow by eating and drinking more slowly. Take time to enjoy your meals. Slowing down can also help reduce symptoms after meals. You can take in less air in other ways, too—refrain from chewing gum, don’t talk while you eat, and get help to quit smoking.

  • Woman sleeping
    5. Create a routine.
    IBS can make you feel lousy during the day even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms. How? Many people with the condition suffer from poor sleep due to pain or anxiety. To improve your mental and physical health, create positive sleep habits. Wake up at the same time each morning, find ways to relax before hitting the sack, and only use your bed for sleep or sex. Getting regular exercise and avoiding naps can also help.

  • women-at-restaurant-laughing-with-drinks
    6. Don’t compensate with caffeine.
    Coffee—or even soda—is the go-to morning drink for many people. If you are having sleep problems, it can be tempting to use caffeine to get you going in the morning or combat afternoon sleepiness. But caffeine can make your sleep problems worse. What’s more, caffeine can aggravate IBS symptoms and cause loose stools. Instead, try boosting your energy with some light exercise, stretching, or a piece of fruit.

  • Woman relaxing on sofa
    7. Learn to de-stress.
    You probably know that emotional stress is closely linked to IBS. It can aggravate symptoms and trigger flare-ups because your brain and your gut communicate through a rich nerve supply. To ease your stress levels, find concrete ways to help you relax—take a yoga class or try deep breathing. Find what calms you during stressful times and put it into practice. Your gut will tell you what works.

  • concerned senior man sitting at table
    8. Take your emotional health seriously.
    If you’re dealing with depression or anxiety, seek help from a professional. These conditions can make IBS worse and having IBS can contribute to these conditions. Fortunately, there are many treatments—including medication—that can help. And because the brain and gut are connected in so many ways, what calms your mind can also calm your IBS symptoms.

  • Healthy eating fit woman
    9. Consider good bacteria.
    Talk with your doctor about taking probiotics—live microorganisms that are similar to the good bacteria normally found in your digestive tract. These tiny organisms can improve the health of the digestive tract. And studies show they may help some people with IBS control their symptoms. Probiotics are available in supplement form or in some yogurts. Talk with your doctor about the type of probiotic and the dose that can help you.

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  • Group of friends laughing drinking wine outdoors
    10. Let go of anxiety.
    It’s common to worry that your symptoms point to a more serious problem. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor for a clear diagnosis. Keep in mind that IBS is not the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and it does not cause cancer. So you can lay those fears to rest. But IBS can change with time. So be sure to tell your doctor about any changes in your symptoms or new symptoms that develop.

10 Tips for Living With IBS

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. Are You a Gut Responder? Hints on Coping With an Irritable Bowel. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. www.iffgd.org/site/manage-your-health/tips-daily-living/hints-coping-irritable-bowel
  2. Controlling Intestinal Gas. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.  www.iffgd.org/site/manage-your-health/symptoms-causes/controlling-gas/
  3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.  http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs/#eating
  4. Is There a Relationship Between Psychological Symptoms and IBS? International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. www.aboutibs.org/site/what-is-ibs/intro-to-ibs/psychological-factors
  5. Sleep and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. www.aboutibs.org/site/signs-symptoms/sleep
  6. IBS: A patient's Guide to Living With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. American Gastroenterological Association. www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome
  7. Symptom Diary. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. www.aboutibs.org/site/signs-symptoms/symptom-diary
  8. IBS Diet: What to Do and What to Avoid. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. www.aboutibs.org/site/treatment/diet/what-to-do
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 4
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