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Top Ten Tips for IBS Relief

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Updated October 07, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Unlike many other health conditions, IBS relief does not often happen by taking one simple medication. Instead, IBS sufferers typically use a variety of strategies to reduce their symptoms. The following list contains the approaches that I believe to be the most helpful and that I recommend to friends, family members, and patients, who ask me what they should do for their IBS. While working with your doctor on a comprehensive treatment plan, here are some additional things to consider:

1. Take a Probiotic Supplement

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.

2. Use a Heating Pad

In addition to the psychological benefits of a heating pad, there is research to suggest that the use of external heat can provide pain relief. Just be sure to protect your skin with a layer or two of clothing to prevent burns.

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3. Sip Some Soothing Herbal Tea

Like a warm heating pad, a cup of herbal tea provides some well-needed psychological soothing. Certain herbal teas have also been traditionally thought to contain ingredients that ease digestive symptoms. The best herbal teas for IBS and their potential health benefits are outlined in this article:

4. Learn How to Eat

It is very common for IBS sufferers to look at certain foods as being IBS triggers. However, eating habits can also have an effect on bowel functioning. Specific eating strategies can be helpful depending on your symptoms:

5. Keep a Food Diary

Keeping a food diary is a simple way to be more scientific about identifying possible IBS triggers. A written account of foods eaten and other external factors helps you to identify patterns that you might otherwise have overlooked. Step by step instructions can be found here:

6. Slowly Increase Your Fiber Intake

Many IBS sufferers are unnecessarily afraid of fiber for fear that it will worsen symptoms. Dietary fiber is actually essential for optimal intestinal functioning. For sensitive systems, like those with IBS, it is important to increase fiber intake very slowly so as to help your colon to adjust. Also, beware of bran, as many IBS sufferers report that it is irritating to the system.

7. Read "Eating for IBS"

In this classic cookbook for IBS sufferers, Heather Von Vorous does a marvelous job of encouraging readers to overcome their fears about foods. Her book includes a rationale for her dietary suggestions, backed up with scientific research, as well as delicious recipes that range from snacks to gourmet meals. In my opinion, this is a must-read for all individuals who are dealing with IBS.

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8. Learn Relaxation Exercises

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 and offers you a practical way to manage inner anxiety when it is triggered by external events. There are three basic types of exercises -- with a little experimentation, you can decide which work best for you:

9. Try Guided Imagery for Pain Relief

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. Here is a step-by-step guide for using guided imagery for IBS pain relief:

10. Try Psychotherapy

This suggestion does not mean that IBS is all in your head. Therapy is thought to be helpful for IBS because it targets the connections among outside stressors, your brain, and your gut. In addition, IBS itself is stressful -- therefore, working with a good therapist can help you to better deal with the disruptive nature of the disorder. Two forms of therapy, in particular, have research support for their effectiveness in reducing IBS symptoms:

Essential Reading from Dr. Bolen, Your IBS Expert:

Sources:

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

O'Mahony, L., McCarthy, J., Kelly, P., Hurley, G., Luo, F., Chen, K., O'Sullivan, G., Kiely, B., Collins, J., Shanahan, F. & Quigley, E. " Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium in irritable bowel syndrome: Symptom responses and relationship to cytokine profiles" Gastroenterology 2005 128:541-551.

Whorwell, P., Altringer, B., Morel, J., Bond, Y., Charnonneau, D., O'Mahoney, L., Kiely, B., Shanahan, F. & Quigley, E. "Efficacy of an Encapsulated Probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 in Women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome" American Journal of Gastroenterology 2006 101:1581-1590.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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