Treating IBS with Lifestyle Changes

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most prevalent gastrointestinal conditions. According to Bayhealth Gastroenterologist Gautamy Chitiki Dhadham, MD, it is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning you must rule out other conditions that can cause the primary symptoms of IBS, including constipation (IBS-C), diarrhea (IBS-D), or both. Other symptoms of IBS include gas, bloating, and abdominal pain and cramping.

Not surprisingly, laxatives for IBS-C and anti-diarrheal agents for IBS-D are commonly prescribed treatments for IBS. Dr. Dhadham says more natural treatments for IBS include peppermint oil, which soothes the stomach, and pre- and pro-biotics to re-establish a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. Beyond these, Dr. Dhadham says making dietary changes and managing stress are important for treating IBS and its symptoms.

More specifically, she recommends following a low FODMAP diet. “FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, which are found in many foods and are responsible for the symptoms associated with IBS. You can go online to find a list of the specific FODMAP foods. To follow a low FODMAP diet, you essentially eliminate or eat less of these FODMAP foods, and this should be done in phases. Phase one is to eliminate all FODMAP foods, phase two is to slowly reintroduce the foods to identify which ones are problematic and phase three is establishing your new personalized low FODMAP diet,” explained Dr. Dhadham.

In terms of stress, Dr. Dhadham says it’s one of the major implications in IBS-D. “When we are stressed, chemicals are released in our brain and our gut. These chemicals then cause GI symptoms related to stress like diarrhea and abdominal pain. The best ways to modify the effects of stress on the gut are to learn to keep stress levels low and, if possible, to avoid stressful situations,” said Dr. Dhadham. “You can also use stress reduction techniques. Many people talk about practicing mindfulness, which can help. Abdominal breathing has also been shown to be effective. It massages your abdominal organs and helps relieve IBS symptoms.”

Dr. Dhadham says she knows lifestyle changes aren’t easy, but they are definitely worth the effort. She also added that some patients benefit from antianxiety medications if their symptoms don’t resolve from the stress reduction techniques, dietary changes or other IBS treatments mentioned above.

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