Irritable bowel syndrome is a very common intestinal disorder that causes excess gas, stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation. For patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), symptoms can disrupt their everyday lives at inconvenient times. If left untreated, IBS can promote other problems like the formation of hemorrhoids.
For many patients, IBS is merely an annoyance from time to time but for others, disabling. Here is how you can help patients learn how to live with IBS, including ways they can manage the condition:
Have patients keep a daily journal of their habits to help identify what triggers their IBS symptoms. For example, some patients find that eating gluten, artificial sweeteners, foods like onions, and caffeine triggers their IBS symptoms. For others, stress, their menstrual cycle, or some medicines are the culprit.
In this journal, have patients identify:
- Their symptoms
- When symptoms began and ended
- Pre-symptom activities
- Type of foods eaten and how much
- Medications taken
When patients come in to see you, have them bring their journal so you can go over it with them and help them identify their triggers and advise on how to avoid them.
Since stress can trigger IBS in patients, recommend ways they can reduce stress in their life. For example, recognizing things that cause stress and the warning signs of impending stress can go a long way in helping patients manage it. Breathing techniques, light exercise, and acknowledging that some things are out of their control are all ways patients can manage and reduce their stress.
Recommend that patients get enough daily exercise, as exercise has been thought to reduce the symptoms of IBS thanks to the ability of exercise to manage stress. Patients should avoid high intensity workouts or running until they know how it will affect their flare ups so suggest gentle exercises like yoga, walking, swimming, and biking to start.
Since exercise can also promote mental health, it is a great way for patients to care for their IBS symptoms and overall wellbeing.
Change Diet & Portion Sizes
IBS symptoms typically occur 30-60 minutes after a patient eats and can be triggered by a specific type of food or the amount of food eaten. For example, a high fat diet with large portions. So recommending that patients eat more fiber, get enough protein, reduce fatty and fried foods, and eat smaller portions is a good way to start cutting out foods that trigger symptoms.
Watch For Unusual Symptoms
If your patients are suffering from unusual symptoms like rectal bleeding, unintentional weight loss, difficulty swallowing, or pain that is not relieved by passing gas or stools. These symptoms could indicate a larger problem like colon cancer.
Medications Should Be Used Carefully
While these lifestyle changes can reduce the symptoms of IBS and improve the lives of patients, sometimes they are not enough and medication can be used. For example, antidepressants, antidiarrheals, and anti-constipation medications can help improve IBS symptoms that show no improvement with at-home treatments and lifestyle changes.
However, medications should be used sparingly and only for the most disruptive symptom as they can aggravate hemorrhoids.