Irritable bowel syndrome
If you have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),
you will know how difficult it is to treat. Doctors can be
dismissive of IBS symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation and
bloating, and when treatment is offered it may only help for a
short while before the distressing symptoms return.
Sufferers often find that they have to deal with the symptoms
themselves, through self-help methods and supplements, rather
than by using conventional medicines. However, this does not
mean that there is no hope of improvement. By sharing their
experiences, sufferers can learn a lot about what really helps
to ease IBS.
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All the self-help tips in this article have come from IBS
sufferers who have found a way to control their irritable
bowels. Before trying any form of self-help, please make sure
that you have your doctor's approval, and do check that anything
you try will not interfere with any medication you are taking.
Linda, who suffers from severe diarrhea, says: 'What has helped
me for more than two years is calcium carbonate, an
over-the-counter supplement. I take three tablets a day, one at
each meal. The most success has come from using any formula of
calcium supplement that is like Caltrate 600 Plus with vitamin D
and minerals. The only side effect is at the beginning of taking
the calcium you may have some gas or indigestion, but this
usually goes away after taking a regular dose for a few days.'
If you suffer from constipation rather than diarrhea, you could
try magnesium supplements instead, as these can have a slight
Digestive enzymes and probiotics
Kim, who also suffers from bad diarrhea, says: 'I tried taking
digestive enzymes with acidophilus and found significant relief
within three days. I am not afraid to eat now, but find that I
still cannot eat very much refined sugar or high fibre
vegetables. I have also added a cup or two per day of peppermint
and chamomile tea. When I do have an episode it occurs late in
the day and by the next morning I am feeling back to normal.'
Looking at your diet
Laura describes how a close examination of her diet helped her
IBS: 'I was placed on every kind of medication, and sometimes
they worked in the short term, sometimes they didn't work at
all. The doctor finally suggested trying to alter my diet in
cycles, and we discovered that eating meat was my problem. I
became a vegetarian and no longer have constant problems.
Sometimes I even go years without any pain at all. It's worth
all the effort you put into it when you finally feel better.'
Mina also found that dietary change helped control her symptoms,
alongside traditional medication: 'I've made a number of changes
to my diet. I've eliminated milk and mostly any dairy, fried
foods, sugar for the most part, pop, alcohol, potato chips,
spicy food, rice, pasta and bread. Most recently I'm eliminating
flour. But my best friend for the last couple of years has been
Imodium Quick Dissolve tablets. I don't ever leave home without
them. I just have to make sure I don't overdo it. If I ever
become immune to the wonder drug I am gonna be a real mess!'
Watching your diet is sometimes not enough to completely control
the symptoms, and natural or herbal supplements can help, as
Marion discovered: 'After about six months of a horrendously
restrictive diet (ultra low-fat vegan with no raw veggies or
fruit except banana) and a lot of Metamucil, I managed to get it
sort of under control. But if I deviated from the diet, the
chronic diarrhea would come back. Someone I met told me that she
had helped her IBS by taking a tablespoon of freshly ground
flaxseed with a glass of water or juice every morning. I thought
it was another crackpot cure, but eventually I decided to try
it. She had told me that pre-ground flaxseed didn't work because
flax seed starts to oxidize as soon as you grind it and that
whole flax seeds are no good either, because they cannot be
digested properly. After years of IBS, in about two weeks it
just went away. I cannot believe that I now have perfectly
normal, regular bowel movements.'
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Fiber, water and yoga
Pam, who struggles with constipation, has developed a
combination of things which work for her: 'I drink Metamucil
(psyllium fibre) every day and try to relax, pray or meditate,
even do a little yoga. The more I make myself relax and take
time to de-stress the better I can manage my problem. I know
time for yourself is very hard to come by sometimes but I have
to if I'm going to manage this. I try to drink at least three
bottles of water a day. This is also hard sometimes but I have
to take care of me the best I can. I also take a mild
anti-depressant. This has helped a bunch in my stress department
and in turn has helped my IBS.'
Stress and IBS
Daniel believes that his symptoms are related to his emotions
and stress: 'I thought that when I was stuck on the toilet,
experiencing the most severe cramps, thinking I was about to
pass out from the pain, feeling like I was about to throw up, I
was the only one. I'm still trying to work it out but I believe
it has a lot to do with my psychological state. I say this
because although I don't get too stressed out at any one moment,
I do have general worries about money and life. I tend to find
when I'm not worrying about these things I don't get the pain as
much, if at all. It's easier said than done of course, I can't
just stop worrying about money or my future, but being aware of
these things seems to help - being optimistic and knowing that
everything is only temporary. I have been taking Colpermin
(peppermint capsules) as a preventative which often helps and
for a while I took painkillers which I think helped.'
Soluble versus insoluble fiber
Some nutritionists believe that IBS sufferers' intestines react
differently to soluble and insoluble fiber, and this has been
Stu's experience: 'After trying all kinds of drugs and healthy
eating, my pains were still there. I found by accident that it
wasn't so much what I ate but whether I ate it on a full stomach
or not. My failsafe is pasta on an empty stomach, I get no
reaction - it is soluble fibre that settles the colon
apparently. I quickly searched on the internet for recipes high
in soluble fibre and I have improved. Most significantly though
I am on no medication and this puts me in control of the IBS,
not the other way around. I think this is important as stress
certainly can trigger the symptoms off. I don't avoid insoluble
fibre as it is essential for the body, but I recommend that you
eat it on a full stomach.'
A final word
Lastly, please do make sure that you have been officially
diagnosed with IBS and had your symptoms fully investigated
before trying any self-help methods. As Joe found out, bowel
symptoms can be due something other than IBS: 'I was diagnosed
with IBS, but I went to get a second opinion. They did an
ultrasound followed by a barium follow-through which showed
major inflammation and blockage of my small intestine. The final
diagnosis is Crohn's disease. It's a pity they didn't catch it
before I was seriously ill, instead of fobbing me off with
excuses of 'It's IBS, there's no cure so live with it!''
About the author:
Sophie Lee has had IBS for 14 years. She runs the IBS Tales
website at http://www.ibstales.com where you can read hundreds
of stories and tips from IBS sufferers.
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What is IBS?
IBS, which stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a chronic disorder in which the bowel doesn't work, as it should.
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