Let me tell you why I loooove irrital bowel syndrom (IBS). First of all, I enjoy spending good portions of each day in the bathroom. Not only does it allow me to catch up on my reading, but it also gives me plenty of time to think up good excuses/lies for why I was late for whatever function I was supposed to attend. I also happen to be a big fan of spending all my extra cash on toilet paper. Oh and lets not forget the doubling over cramps and gas pains that used to inevitably follow a good 70% (not an exaggeration) of my meals. My all time favorite part though has got to be the awesomely painful and sometimes bloody rawness that develops from the constant wiping. And I apologize for that imagery, but if you are unlucky enough to have irritable bowel syndrome, then you know exactly what I’m talking about and are eager to help get rid of IBS.
So what is IBS and what causes it? Turns out, no one really knows the answers to those questions. So is it an actual ailment? Oh yes. And I have the colonoscopy pictures to prove it. I’m not alone either. An estimated 20% of people in western societies are similarly blessed. Most sufferers (about 70%) are not even treated. And here’s what’s happening to us: Our colons hate us, and therefore want to cause us excruciating pain by being extra sensitive to certain stimuli. Things that would not bother other people’s colons have a tendency to kick our colons square in the nuts, which of course causes muscle contractions and spasming which in turn causes pain and in many cases a little accompanying diarrhea. For people with IBS the colon also pushes food along at irregular rates. Sometimes food is pushed through too fast and the colon is not able to absorb enough liquid, which results in IBS with diarrhea. However, if food is pushed through too slowly the colon absorbs too much fluid, which then results in IBS with constipation. Sometimes, in cases such as mine, both occur. And while I would rather I didn’t have experience with irritable bowel syndrome, I do; so I hope that my experiences might help you along with your own IBS treatment.
Common IBS Symptoms
- Alternating constipation and diarrhea
- Bloating and gas
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling of nonempty bowels
- Mucus in stool
- Back pain
Treatments for I.B.S.
Take psyllium fiber supplements. For myself, the number one tool I have found for IBS relief is without question psyllium fiber supplements. After my colonoscopy, the doc told me to start taking Metamucil. I went with the generic target version instead…and it worked wonders. By following the instructions on the bottle, I’ve been able to reduce my symptoms of IBS by at least 70%. Just make sure you get psyllium, there are several other types of fiber supplements available that just plain didn’t work for me.
Develop your own IBS diet by keeping a food diary.Being sure not to overeat (as this is a common reason for IBS pain) write down everything you eat every day and record how you feel after each meal and throughout the rest of the day. This way you can start to connect the dots. Once you’ve had a few bad days you can start looking for common denominators and eventually learn what foods to cut out. While everyone’s diet for IBS is going to be different here are a few very common triggers that you might want to start cutting out: fatty foods, red meat, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners.
Drink lots of water. You’ve been getting told this your entire life by everyone from your gym teacher to your grandma’s ex-step brother in law’s estranged third cousin twice removed. And gosh darnit if they weren’t right. You should be putting down at least 8-12 glasses of water a day. And yes, you’re gonna pee more, but your bowels need plenty of water for proper digestion and this is the cheapest and easiest thing you can do for treating IBS.
Try to avoid stress. While stress and anxiety do not cause IBS, they can and do worsen irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. I know avoiding stress is much easier said than done, however, there are easy things you can do to chill. For example, set a few minutes aside every day for yourself and do something as simple as listen to music or sit outside and have a quiet cup of coffee (decaf of course). Yoga is also a common stress reliever. For myself, I have to put more work into not dwelling on things and just letting stuff go.
Get yourself some exercise. Regular exercise helps to decrease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and stimulate your bowels. It doesn’t have to be anything real strenuous either. Activities such as going for a walk, swimming, rollerblading, cross country skiing or going for a leisurely bike ride are good all choices. Yoga, aside from the aforementioned benefits of stress relief, is also a option good.
IBS Natural Remedies
Peppermint oil is a very common natural IBS remedy that has been shown to have pretty good results. Peppermint oil is an antispasmodic (relaxes the muscles of the digestive system) that is generally taken in capsule form. If capsules are unavailable to you, peppermint tea is another option.
Artichoke leaf extract (ALE) is another one of the natural IBS remedies that seems to work quite well. It is generally taken in tablet or capsule form and works well to alleviate symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation and abdominal pain.
Chamomile may be the easiest natural IBS remedy to come by, as it is readily available in tea form. Not only is chamomile an antispasmodic, but it is also a mild sedative, so be careful not to do anything silly while under the influence.
Fennel seed also has some antispasmodic properties. It is known to help with gas and bloating and may also help in the stimulation of gastric juices. Any natural food store will sell fennel in bulk. Chew it up as is or crush it up a little and make a tea out of it.
Medications for IBS
Laxatives are a very common medicine for IBS. There are two basic types of laxatives: stimulant laxatives and osmotic laxatives. Stimulant laxatives are the ones we are all familiar with like Ex-Lax and Dulcolax. These work by causing the muscles in your bowel to contract-which moves the stool along. Osmotic laxatives work by drawing water back into the colon and thus softening the stool. Brands such as Miralax and Lactulose are osmotic laxatives and only available through prescription for people with chronic constipation.
Antidiarrheals are also commonly used as IBS medication and work by slowing down intestinal movement. This allows more water to be absorbed by the colon, which causes the stool to harden. Both Lomotil and Loperamide (Immodium) are commonly used and very easy to come by.
Antispasmodics are IBS medications that help to relax and smooth the muscles of the bowel by controlling spasms and thus preventing or relieving abdominal pain and cramping. Mebeverine and dicyclomine hydrochloride (Bentyl) are two types of antispasmodics. This type of IBS medicine is generally taken 30-60 minutes before eating a meal.
Antianxiety agents (benzodiazepines) such as diazepam (Valium) and lorazapam (Ativan) are sometimes used as IBS drugs. While stress and anxiety do not cause IBS, they frequently make symptoms worse.
Antidepressants taken in low doses have been shown to be effective IBS treatments. There are two basic types: tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). TCA’s like Tofranil and Elavil inhibit gut motility by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin. Citalopram and Paroxetine are SSRIs. The effectiveness of SSRIs is much more controversial than that of TCAs and it is not well understood how they work.