Irritable bowel syndrome, also commonly referred to as ‘IBS’ is a common digestive system condition. It can cause a number of symptoms These symptoms tend to come and go over time and can last for days, weeks and even months at a time. Although the exact cause is unknown, it is linked to a few different factors. Living with IBS can be debilitating for some since many people who suffer from it experience a strong urge to use the bathroom and may avoid going to places without easy access to one.
Irritable bowel syndrome can cause a number of symptoms that can have a significant impact on a person’s day-to-day life and can lead to people experiencing low mood and stress as a result. Here are some of the symptoms experienced by those who suffer from IBS:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- A change in bowel habits
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Excessive wind
- Experiencing the occasional yet urgent need to empty your bowels
- Feeling tired and lethargic
Causes of irritable bowel syndrome
Although the exact cause of IBS is unknown, it has been linked to a number of factors. These factors include things like your food passing too quickly or too slowly through your gut. Over-sensitive nerves in your gut mean certain foods can trigger irritable bowel symptoms. It is also common if you have a family history of IBS or suffer from stress.
Can I live a normal life with IBS?
Research suggests that IBS affects around 10-20% of people who live in the UK which works at around 12 million people. This long-standing illness is complex and doesn’t come with a cure, however there are ways you can manage it since it is generally triggered by diet and/or lifestyle. Here are some examples of how you can self-manage your IBS and live a normal life:
Often, those who suffer from IBS tend to find that eating can trigger symptoms. The main triggers include fizzy drinks, alcohol, dairy, gluten, fatty foods, and acidic vegs such as onions or garlic. The IBS Network offers comprehensive diet advice on its website as well as simple recipes that are low in fat, low in insoluble fibre and do not contain hot spices or other food substances known to upset a sensitive gut. By making these dietary changes, you are well on your way to minimising the symptoms associated with IBS.
Improving your physical activity levels is an excellent way to manage IBS. The main reasons why increased exercise can help with IBS is firstly because it helps to maintain a healthy toilet routine, but secondly, because it has a hugely positive effect on your mental well-being.
Emotional tension such as anxiety, despair and frustration are known factors that contribute to the worsening of IBS symptoms and can make your gut feel as though it is being tied in knots. Advice on managing stress and anxiety can help in adapting your work/life balance and counselling can help you better deal with these mental health issues.
Take comfort with you
As well as seeking and applying ways to reduce your IBS symptoms, there are a number of things you can carry with you at all times that make you feel more comfortable. These comforts may give you the confidence you need to step out of your comfort zone. Examples of what you could pack include:
- A change of clothes
- Baby wipes
- Medications or remedies
- Healthy snacks
Work with a healthcare professional
If you suffer from a chronic condition like IBS, it may be worth seeing a healthcare professional like Mr Andrew Clarke who specialises in that area. A healthcare provider will serve as a guide and resource who can help to identify your triggers and recommend ways in which you can manage them.
Put yourself out there
Finally, the best advice to live by if you want to experience a ‘normal’ life as an IBS sufferer is to get out there and live. Do not let IBS run your life, make plans and remember that leaving the house does not trigger IBS symptoms, it is in fact the anxiety of what could happen that triggers them. By practising relaxation strategies as well as actually putting yourself out there you will soon be able to better rationalise these concerns, thus lessening the likelihood of your IBS symptoms occurring.
There are ways in which you can get out there and avoid missing out whilst still taking your IBS into account. For example, if you know you tend to experience diarrhoea episodes in the morning, schedule activities for the afternoon. Another thing you can do is make those around you aware of your needs whether that being extra time for bathroom stops or having a plan in place to find available bathrooms. This support will help to keep you calm until you are able to reach one.