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Irritable Bowel Syndrome: 6 lifestyle changes to manage the intestinal disorder

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disoder of digestive system that causes disturbance in the bowel habits of affected people and may also cause issues like pain, cramping, heaviness or bloating in the stomach. Disturbance in bowel habits can mean any of these – change of frequency of stools, change in its form or need for excessive straining. It can range from diarrhea to difficult constipation. More common in women than men, IBS may be managed effectively by making certain lifestyle modifications and controlling triggers like stress. (Also read: Ayurveda tips for IBS: Keep gut issues at bay with these useful hacks)

What causes IBS

“Our digestive system similar to our brain, has its own nerves and signal transmitters across the nerves to send messages within its component, which is why it is also called the second brain. IBS is a disorder which arises when there is discordance between the axis of brain- the gut nerves and the gut proper. Exact cause for this disturbance is not known but triggers like stress, infections, medications, hormonal changes and type of food have been well documented,” says Dr Shankar Zanwar, Consultant Gastroenterologist, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central.

Symptoms of IBS

Diarrhea, constipation, sense of incomplete stool evacuation which is a feeling like you still need to poop after you just did, gas, pain in abdomen, feeling of bloating in abdomen, cramping in abdomen are some of the symptoms of the disoder.

How to cope with IBS

Dr Shankar Zanwar suggests lifestyle modifications that can help cope with IBS.

1. Stress busting: Stress if one the biggest cause for triggering IBS. Engaging yourself in activities which you relish meaning pursuing your hobbies is one of the easiest stress busters. It can take your disturbed mind away from the gut. As mentioned above IBS is the disease of disturbed gut-brain axis.

2. IBS diary: It is always a good idea to maintain diary which records what you eat, how you feel after any unusual or specific food items and the trend of your bowel symptoms which can include stool frequency and stool form. This will give both the patient and caregiver a clearer idea regarding the planning for better treatment and diet.

3. Food intolerance: There is quite a hype surrounding ‘food intolerance tests’ these days. A simpler way to cope with IBS is to maintain the food diary identify your self if any unusual food has triggered your symptoms and eliminate it from the diet. The common culprits are dairy products, wheat, some fruits (apples, mangoes, cherries, watermelon), onions, cabbage, beans and nuts.

4. Diet: Specific diet varies from person to person and depends also on the predominant type of IBS. If you have constipation-type IBS, a high fibre diet of whole fruits (with skin when edible), legumes, prunes and cereals is helpful. Patients with diarrheal-type IBS should avoid the items mentioned to manage constipation-type IBS along with dairy products. They can switch to non-wheat cereals, non-dairy milk like soy milk or almond milk etc.

Changing your breakfast timing to before passing stools can also improve constipation-type IBS as it gives a kick to your gut to expel the contents. You should drink ample amount of water that will keep your stool coming out easily when you are constipated and avoid dehydration if you have diarrhea.

5. Exercise: Abundant researches are now available to show that exercise decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression and along with it also improves symptoms of IBS. You should target 15-30 minutes of simple exercise at least 5 days per week.

6. Unhealthy habits: Stopping alcohol and smoking will definitely improve your gut symptoms. Excessive coffee and tea can worsen diarrheal type constipation and add on to heartburn symptoms.

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