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Tips for Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS

Updated on March 7, 2013
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the pain and discomfort that accompanies IBS. Learn to cope by following these ten tips.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the pain and discomfort that accompanies IBS. Learn to cope by following these ten tips. | Source

IBS, also known as Irritable Bowel syndrome is a digestive system disorder that is incurable and lacks any concrete causes. IBS is unique to each person who suffers from it, and can be painful, causing bloating, stomach pain and diarrhea among other symptoms. Living in fear of sudden attacks can be difficult and seeking information on how to cope or live your life newly diagnosed can be embarrassing.

Here are my top ten embarrassment-free tips for living with IBS:

1. Be Open: Recognize that everyone has some sort of skeleton in the closet, or something embarrassing that they aren’t proud of. IBS is nothing to be ashamed of- you cannot help that the connection between your brain and digestive system isn’t wired just right. If the situation warrants an explanation, or someone asks, be open about explaining the condition without getting too graphic.

2. Seek a Doctor’s Help: For some reason, people seem to be afraid of going to see a doctor. The aid and relief they can provide are tremendous as some particularly bad IBS cases do require medication. You may also not have been formally diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and may have diagnosed yourself from internet sources. However, digestive issues can be serious and can point to other diseases like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis. It is important that you have a doctor rule out these serious diseases.

3. Take Control: If you can’t afford to go to a doctor, or have already been, taking control of your own IBS is imperative. Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be triggered by many things, and it’s up to you to discover what sets your condition off. Try a lactose-free diet for two weeks and see if it helps. Eliminate fatty foods for two weeks. Try drinking three more 8 oz. glasses of water than usual with a Fiber One bar or with Metamucil. You could even try probiotics. IBS can be very unique to each individual it effects. Learn what makes yours unique.

4. Excuse Yourself: Don’t be afraid of what other people think. It’s none of your business anyway. If you feel an attack coming on, usually characterized by bloating, gas, stomach pain, cramps and later diarrhea, feel free to excuse yourself. If you’re with close friends or family who understand, tell them your stomach is upset and calmly leave the room. If you’re in the company of strangers or in a school or work environment, quietly slip out of the room. The only excuse necessary is that you simply aren’t feeling well at the moment- most people should understand that medical conditions are private information and that it is no one’s business but your own. If it becomes necessary, quietly explain to your supervisor or teacher that your stomach is easily upset and that occasionally you may need some time on your own.

5. Control Your Pain: IBS can manifest itself in severe abdominal discomfort-I passed out one early morning in the shower after a particularly rough night, although that is unusual. Oftentimes an oral painkiller may be too slow for more rapid episodes and may not help. Instead, try hot water bottles placed on the lower abdomen. The heat can help immensely with pain and relief can be quickly administered. Placing gentle pressure on the abdomen or area of pain can also help.

6. Eat a Healthier Diet: You may be struggling to pinpoint the trigger to your IBS or may come to realize that your IBS is not related to any particular food group. Eating an overall healthy diet can be crucial to living comfortably with IBS. Cut out greasy fast food, as much it may hurt. Not only will you feel better and reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but your intestines will thank you. Eat a bowl of dark greens at least once a day. Spinach is full of iron and nutrients your body needs and helps keep your body and digestive system running smoothly. Try smoothies with flax seed or granola bars. Making healthy dietary changes can drastically improve your Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

7. Relax: IBS can be stress triggered and for obvious reasons, severe stomach cramping and mad bathroom dashes don’t help anxiety. Try meditation, warm baths (not too hot and not too long-heating your internal organs is not healthy), yoga or calming music to help keep yourself relaxed. Don’t clench your abdominal muscles too hard or keep them clenched all the time; I find myself sitting rigidly with my abdominal muscles held tightly as my internal discomfort slowly grows.

8. Find a Support Group: The internet abounds with all sorts of people, and that includes those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Living and coping with IBS can be made much easier when you have others to talk to and compare symptoms with. Oftentimes they can provide new ideas or tips to dealing with this sometimes embarrassing disease, and you don’t have to reveal yourself to others. Talking about diarrhea is much easier when it’s done in text.

9. Keep a Record: This was one of the first things my mother told me to do when my IBS attacks started picking up in frequency. Keep a record of your attacks, including the amount of time you felt discomfort, date and what you ate in the past three days. Such records can be helpful in pinpointing causes and can also be helpful to medical professionals who can notice trends that you might not.

10. Don’t let it Define You: IBS in some severe cases can be debilitating, painful and cause extreme social discomfort. Don’t let your Irritable Bowel Syndrome control where you go, what you do and when. If you feel your friends or new acquaintances won’t understand, they aren’t worth your time. If love isn’t freely given, it isn’t worth having, especially if it’s withheld over uneducated disgust for a condition that is incurable and can’t be helped. Be proud of who you are and don’t let IBS define you or make you feel ashamed or disgusting.

Do you have IBS?

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    • Miss-Megan profile image

      Miss Megan 

      5 years ago from Indianapolis, IN

      Mary, I have found much relief with a prescription of Zoloft. I was afraid to take medicine for my IBS, but it has changed my life. I do not have any negative side-effects from the drug. Ask your doctor what your options are, life is too short to be miserable.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I'm only 15 and this started when I began 7th grade I assumed that I was just nervous to be at a new school. My IBS kept me from attending my first three days at Jr.high.. Sometimes it goes away for months but this year its come back stronger than ever and now I never go out because im extremely afraid. And in class I can't stop thinking if I have to go to the bathroom and because of that I cause my self to have a panic attack. But im to embarrassed to go to the bathroom because I know it will be a while. It makes me worry because I live my life in constant fear. I want to be able to go on dates or go to a theme park or even on a long run, withought having to worry that I need to go to the bathroom. I have a lot of life ahead of me and im not planning on living this amount of time scared of such a natural thing.. Keep calm poop atormg haha

    • Shanna11 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Utah

      I am so very, very sorry to hear about your trials, Mary and wish I could offer you something.

      I would consider gathering as much evidence as possible and seek the help of a lawyer or a police officer to end this harassment. That is far too much and no human being should have to endure that.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am suffering with it 8 years. Now i have no life - i don't even leave my home(

      It started on the third year of my collage. It was a torture to graduate. I don't know why i did it. it would have been better to leave the collage, and continue later. Maybe that stress added to the illness.

      I don't know why i went and found job immediately after graduation. Even with my own office, it was insufferable. People weren't understanding at all. They were mocking, they took pictures of me and gave it to all their friends, and just to random people in the neighborhood where i was working. They found it hilarious, when i was just walking, to show with a finger and say - that is that girl...I left the work, and i am afraid to go out. The same people found it so funny... they still do it.. They find out where i live and talked with my neighbors, with their kids, found common relatives, visited them and talked about me.. and soon everyone at my building was looking funny, mocking behind my back. When i go to the store, random people from neighborhood that i don't even know will tell, that is that girl, take their mobile and without hiding take pictures. I am basically at home day over day and leave only for shopping. and it does not end! The children find it funny to talk about me, the adults found gossip material... i live in a small city, where everyone knows everyone, and sometimes i wish to die.

      I do hope others cope better. I just wish i can leave this country. but don't have money. and don't have any future.

      I am 31 year old already... and no future ahead of me. I am afraid even to leave the home.

      My problem is that when i am nervous there are gases. Not with a sound or much. I could have leaved in more civil society, maybe even find a job. but...

      And the mocking isn't even about gases. The people that took the pictures and started all this - wrote on them that i am dirty, don't take baths. I sow that pictures once, when a young man showed them to me. I had noticed that strangers point at me and talk about me, and i couldn't understand, why? He was the only one angry at it and came to me, when i was out, and talked to me. But what can i do? nothing. They all find it funny, to persecute someone like this, even if that someone nearly has not left his home for 5 years and does not know them.

    • Rebecca2904 profile image


      7 years ago

      Great hub! Living with IBS can be terribly painful at times but I agree with you - the embarrassment is often the worst part. In my experience my friends and family have all been very supportive of me, and understand that sometimes I make funny smells haha. Getting information out there about IBS is vital, I think, as so many people might not realise that they have it, instead thinking they just have a slightly dodgy tummy.

      You give some great advice here - trying to live as stress free life as possible is imperative as stress just makes it a hundred times worse. I also find that sticking to a mainly vegetarian diet helps to control mine as well. I've also written a Hub with some tips that I find helpful, feel free to check it out! (Although you don't have to, of course :) ) Hope you continue to stay on top of your IBS!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      IBS is killing me

    • healthygut profile image


      7 years ago from Oregon

      Thanks for your interesting and useful hub - I have found that keeping a food journal has helped me to identify certain foods which trigger pain and bloating.

      nice work!

    • EuroNinila profile image

      Fotinoula Gypsyy 

      7 years ago from NYC BABY

      I diagnosed myself with IBS and then went to the doctor and he told me as well. I thought it was weird how fast it was for him. I am still unsure if I really do have anything or not, I guess when my stress level is up my whole body falls apart. I do feel better when I exercise and eat healthy though! I don't think theres anything to be embarrassed about. We all have a little something wrong with us, nobody is perfect.

    • Shanna11 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Utah

      Good for you! Your health comes first, in my opinion. Although I still hate when I'm out with friends or something, and my stomach just cramps up. It's the worst.

      Digestive disorders seem to be unique in some way to the person they afflict-- it's important for people to understand that what works for a friend may not work for you, which is why it's also important to seek the guidance of a doctor.

    • EyesStraightAhead profile image

      Shell Vera 

      7 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I have Crohn's and find that it took me time to get through the "Don't Care What People Think" step! I would sit in meetings with my stomach hurting just hoping no one would ask a final question. Now I have learned my health is more important than being embarrassed that someone knows I left to use the rest room or was gone too long! I was amazed when I finally talked with a few friends at how different the symptoms are for everyone living with IBS, Colitis, Crohn's, and Diverticulitis. It seems like no two people have the same triggers or symptoms overall. There are some commonalities, but the combinations are different. Thank you for sharing this. It is encouraging to know others out there are managing.

    • Shanna11 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Utah

      Thank you!

      I think IBS is more common than people think as well. I have a sneaking suspicion that my roommate may even have it-- it could be a food allergy, but her stomach has been upset of late.

      Exercise is very good for IBS in my experience, as well. Sometimes a hard or long run will set off my stomach, but if I've hydrated well, I feel like a million bucks afterward!

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      7 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      I actually have a prescription for it but have found when I exercise and actively manage my stress, the medicine is not needed.

      I believe millions of people, especially the aging populace as not diagnosed.

      Very good and useful article. Voted up.


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