Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder which affects around 10-15% of the US population and can develop at any age. IBS is characterized by a range of symptoms involving the gastrointestinal system, particularly the large intestine of the digestive tract.
While there is currently no exact cause or cure for IBS, studies have shown that IBS is linked to food and gut hypersensitivities that can be addressed through dietary and lifestyle changes.
Despite being a common disorder, IBS symptoms can vary substantially from person to person, from persistent discomfort to severe pain. This can negatively impact on a person’s quality of life and be both embarrassing and distressing. We’ve compiled a list of the top 5 most common types of pain which IBS sufferers report, complete with tips for short-term relief and long-term pain management:
The 5 Most Common Pains of IBS
1) Abdominal Pain and Cramping
At its most severe, this can be a sharp, stabbing pain in the abdomen and can be extremely debilitating, especially when linked to other IBS symptoms. This left 11-year old Louisa in agony, taking her away from classes, play time and a carefree childhood. Click here to learn how Louisa reclaimed her childhood back and her quality of life.
2) Bloating and Swelling of the Stomach
Abdominal distension is a common complaint of IBS sufferers. Often describing a flat stomach in the morning which becomes more distended during the day, this may be linked to excessive abdominal gas. Find out how 25-year old Heather, who suffered with bloating and digestive discomfort, managed to identify her trigger foods with a food sensitivity test.
3) Constipation or Diarrhea
Fluctuating bowel habits can be a particularly distressing symptom during an IBS flare-up, often alongside abdominal pain or cramping. It can be possible to have episodes of both, but some people, like 43-year old HR Manager Debs Hill, experienced one more than the other.
You may have heard people refer to IBS-C and IBS-D. IBS-C stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Constipation, whereas IBS-D stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Diarrhea. So, if you find you only ever experience one of these two uncomfortable symptoms, it’s likely you could be categorized as an IBS-C or IBS-D sufferer.
Reading more about these sub-types of IBS may help you learn more about managing your personal symptoms.
4) Excessive Wind
Some foods are naturally gas producing and for an IBS sufferer they can exacerbate problems, causing additional pain and distress. For 26 year-old Eleanor Newton, these symptoms brought a sense of unease when going out to eat, until she took a food sensitivity test to find out if there were trigger foods that might cause her digestive issues. If you suspect your diet could be the cause of your discomfort, find out if any of these foods could be the cause.
Nausea can often manifest alongside other IBS symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal pain, making the sufferer feel sick after eating and contributing to the anxiety that can be associated with mealtimes. For 55-year old Trudi, her nausea and IBS symptoms affected her life considerably, to the point where she admits that ‘I stopped socializing and I would not attend places where they had food as I worried that it would make me ill’. Find out here how Trudi overcame her condition and reclaimed her life back.
Fast pain relief for IBS symptoms
While there is no permanent fix for IBS, there are several ways to help reduce pain in the short term with a few simple at-home remedies.
Invest in a heat pack or hot water bottle
Whether it’s putting the kettle on and filling up a hot water bottle or placing a heat pack in the microwave for 30 to 90 seconds, gentle heat over the abdomen can bring relief from pain and IBS cramping.
Take a long, hot bath
A hot bath is not just an occasional self-care treat to slow down and take some time out to enjoy the steam and bubbles. The full body experience of a hot bath can also be beneficial to minimizing abdominal pain as the mild heat calms and soothes the lower back and pelvic area.
Drink non-caffeinated herbal tea
In contrast to caffeinated coffee, which has an invigorating effect and stimulates gut motility, caffeine-free herbal tea has a calming response for many IBS sufferers.
A soothing hot chamomile tea can help relieve digestive problems, while peppermint tea is known for its antispasmodic properties which helps reduce cramping. Anise tea can be a good natural laxative for constipation, while fennel tea has been known to support general digestive health. Other types of herbal teas that have been linked to soothing digestive issues also include turmeric, dandelion, liquorice, ginger, nettle, and lavender tea.
Embrace relaxation techniques
Whether it’s immersing into the pages of a good book, listening to a favorite album, drawing, or meditating, cathartic activities can help move the focus away from IBS symptoms and reduce stress. Prolonged stress is known to cause chronic inflammation in the body and can potentially aggravate IBS attacks.
While staying active might sound counterintuitive when suffering with IBS symptoms, low-impact regular exercise – such as walking – can minimize stress, ease bloating and improve overall bowel function.
Additionally, the endorphins boost post exercise will work wonders on mood regulation and keeping stress levels in check. For those who experience diarrhea during an IBS attack, indoor low-to-moderate activities like yoga or Pilates is a recommended alternative.
Over the counter medicine (OTC)
Easily accessible over-the-counter medicine that offers diarrhea or constipation relief might be an option for those who are able to manage their mild to moderate IBS symptoms without seeing their doctor. Other over-the-counter IBS medications can include fiber supplements, and pain medications like pregabalin and gabapentin that can help keep the pain or bloating under control. For those experiencing severe IBS symptoms and abdominal pain however, prescriptions and practitioner-licensed medication might be way forward. Always consult your health provider prior to taking any medication.
Long-term management of IBS pain
Beyond these tips for more immediate relief, there are also ways to reduce the likelihood of IBS flare-ups for those living with the condition long term.
Managing Your Diet
Whether you’re experiencing an acute IBS attack lasting a few hours or reoccurring symptoms lasting several days, some of the best foods to eat with IBS include:
- Vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, spinach, ginger, potato, radish, olives, pumpkin, and tomato
- Fruits like oranges, mandarins, clementines, strawberries, grapes, and papaya
- Beef, chicken, lamb, pork, and various types of seafood
- Rice, cornmeal, and gluten-free grains
- Eggs, cheese, and lactose-free milk, and yoghurt
- Olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil
While these examples are all no-to-low FODMAP options, even foods like these that might be considered low-FODMAPs should be consumed mindfully. Certain combinations of these foods can result in “FODMAP stacking” which can put you past the threshold that still causes IBS symptoms.
A good starting point for those with recurring IBS or IBS-type symptoms is the Premium Food Sensitivity Test. IBS flareups can be a reaction to certain trigger foods, even if that food is low FODMAP. At-home food sensitivity testing can help identify which foods you are reacting to and help to take control of your condition.
Adjusting Your Lifestyle
Regular exercise has also been linked to a decrease in IBS symptoms. Aside from an overall health boost, physical exercise helps induce more-frequent bowel movements and more-rapid colon transit than a sedentary lifestyle.
Staying active also keeps stress levels in check as exercise is known to reduce stress and contribute to better sleep, improved mental health and quality of life. This is particularly important for IBS sufferers whose symptoms are aggravated by chronic stress. Studies have shown that psychological stress is not only a factor in chronic inflammation in the body but it can also reshape the gut’s bacteria composition. This can, in turn, aggravate IBS symptoms.
If OTC medicine isn’t the way to go to manage IBS flare-ups, there is also the option of prescription-based medications these are wind ranging and should only be considered after consulting with your medical provider.
The YorkTest Premium Food Sensitivity Test takes just a few minutes to collect a blood sample. It’s a simple finger-prick blood test you can take at home then send back by post to our accredited laboratory for analysis. We test for reactions to 200 foods and you receive your results online within 7 days.