Ten Steps to an Improved Quality of Life with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects almost 20% of the population, many of who struggle to enjoy the basic pleasures of life due to their symptoms. Although there isn’t a cure for the condition, there are several steps you can take to improve your personal quality of life.
IBS is a disorder that leads to abdominal pain and cramping, changes in bowel movements (diarrhea and constipation), and other symptoms. But unfortunately, there is no anatomical or biochemical abnormality to explain the symptoms and no two patients are exactly alike. However, there does seem to be some common factors which, when modified, can help relief the discomfort.
Dr. Alvin Newman MD FRCPC FACP FACG, an adjunct professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto, offers some wise advice in “The Essential IBS Book: Understanding and Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Functional Dyspepsia.”
1. Take control of your own case.
Because no two patients are alike, it may take some detective work to find out the best treatments for your own case. But the first step is to understand that you have the ability to take control of your disorder rather than your disorder taking control of you. There will be times of discomfort with IBS, but recognize that things will get better if you take the time to understand your disorder and take steps to improve the things you can change while accepting the things you can’t.
2. Become an un-patient
A caring relationship between you and your doctor is critical, so find one that will empathize with your condition and work with you to take the steps to improve it. But don’t depend upon your doctor to do it all. An “un-patient” or “non-patient” is one who accepts his or her part in the treatment plan. Your doctor will take care of your pharmaceutical needs, should there be any, but you should ensure that you work on nonpharmaceutical lifestyle changes as well.
3. Eliminate, reduce or avoid aggravating foods as recommended by a dietitian
Dietary changes can be helpful for IBS patients, but again realize that no one specific diet is recommended because no two cases are alike. It may be helpful to keep a diet journal to identify those foods that aggravate your IBS. However, there are some foods that tend to be more irritating such as caffeine, lactose-containing dairy foods (milk, cheese), fructose-containing foods (ex: high fructose corn syrup), and saturated fats. Avoiding larger meals and instead eating more frequent smaller meals may also help. Once you find a diet that works for you, stick with the plan.
4. Take medications as prescribed by your doctor.
Some of the types of medications that may be prescribed are antidiarrheals (Lomotil, Immodium), laxatives (Miralax, Senna), antispasmodics (Bentylol, Buscopan, tranquilizers (Valium, Xanax), and antidepressants. The last two are used for two purposes. One, stress and anxiety can increase IBS symptoms so antianxiety/antidepressant medications may be helpful. Two, there is a small amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the gut and this is an area of investigation to ultimately find an underlying cause for IBS. Many antidepressants on the market today are SSRI’s or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
5. Reduce stress in your life – at home and at work.
As mentioned, stress plays a role in the development of IBS. Research continues to better understand how hormones affect the bowel and how this can be treated. Until then, stress management techniques should be employed to help minimize symptoms. Exercise is a proven stress reliever, and it is recommended that IBS patients aim for 30 minutes of aerobic, strength, and stretching exercise at least three times a week. Yoga and meditation may also be helpful. Learning improved time management skills and ensuring that you take time out of each day for your self is also important.
6. Try not to somatize your symptoms into something more serious.
IBS can be a miserable situation, but it is not fatal. IBS is not colon cancer, celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. If you have been adequately tested for a more serious condition, and nothing is found, take comfort in the fact that your IBS is not causing permanent harm to your body.
7. Refuse narcotics.
Despite the pain you may be feeling, narcotics are not recommended for the treatment of IBS. Instead, try heat, relaxation, and time.
8. Avoid untested herbal remedies.
So far, there aren’t any vitamins or herbal therapies proven to be effective in the treatment of IBS. One exception may be Vitamin D, because milk – the most common source of the vitamin in the American diet – is often avoided by IBS patients, so many are deficient. Have your doctor test for a vitamin D deficiency before purchasing supplements. Probiotics may be helpful, but research is continuing.