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The Most Common IBS Symptoms and How to Treat Them

We talked about the most common IBS symptoms last week in What is IBS?, but now it's time to delve a little deeper and look at effective IBS treatments, too. Since I was diagnosed with IBS in November 2016, I've had more than enough time to experiment with all kinds of treatments and these are the ones I can 100% recommend that have worked for me and significantly improved my life. (And the lives of those around me, since I'm pretty much a living hell to be around when my symptoms flare up!)

Girl lying on her bed suffering from IBS symptoms

IBS symptoms | Stomach cramps

The first IBS symptom people usually notice is stomach cramps. These can occur shortly after eating or after going a long time without food. It sounds nonsensical and inconsistent, but everyone reacts differently to this disease. The stomach cramps can range from mildly uncomfortable to so unbearably painful that you can't move.

Treatments for stomach cramps

  • Lie down: This is the one that has proved most effective for me. Lie in your bed or on your sofa on your back looking up at the ceiling, so you're fully flat. I don't know why this works, but it takes the pressure off your digestive system and will dramatically ease your pain instantly.
  • Remove clothes pressing on your abdomen: Wearing high-rise clothing, tights or shape-controlling underwear like Spanx can put unnecessary pressure on your intestines and make your pain worse. So remove any tight closing asap (assuming you're at home and not in a public place!) and feel the pressure ease.
  • Apply a heat pad to your abdomen: If I've got people round and going to bed or stripping off aren't possible, I pull out my heat pad and tuck it under my top so it's pressed against my abdomen. I also have a cute hot water bottle I can snuggle up with which works. But I find a heat pad is better because it maintains the temperature and you don't have to keep re-heating it.
  • Eat something small and light: If it's been a few hours since you last ate, your stomach cramps could be due to lack of food. Make yourself something low FODMAP and eat it slowly, taking the time to chew properly.

Bowl of oatmeal topped with strawberries

IBS symptoms | Diarrhoea

Worrying that you can't even leave the house because you need to be near a bathroom at all times is a horrible feeling and one you can't just get on with. Although I rarely suffer from it (and, thankfully, I work from home so when it occurs it's not that much of an issue) I totally understand how it can wreck your day. If diarrhoea is one of the IBS symptoms which affects you, try these treatments:

Treatments for diarrhoea

  • IBS relief medicines: I swear by Colpermin and Buscopan, as do many other IBS sufferers. Not only will it stop your diarrhoea pretty quickly, but it will also ease any other IBS symptoms you're experiencing.
  • Diarrhoea relief medicines: If you need to stop your diarrhoea asap, you might be better off with anti-diarrhoea pills like Kirkland or Immodium.
  • Avoid diarrhoea-inducing foods: Such as caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, fried food, sorbitol (an artificial sweetener) and fructose. It won't stop your IBS symptoms straight away but it will help over time.
  • Switch your insoluble fibre for soluble fibre: Soluble fibre takes longer to pass through your digestive system and will be less likely to lead to diarrhoea. You can find it in oats, barley, rye, low FODMAP fruit and low FODMAP vegetables.

Glass bottle filled with water

IBS symptoms | Constipation

At the other end of the IBS symptoms scale you've got constipation. Doctors define constipation as going to the bathroom three or fewer times each week. I think I speak for all IBS-C sufferers when I say that I say I wish I went to the bathroom than often! If constipation is one of the big IBS symptoms you suffer from, try these treatments:

Treatments for constipation

  • Drink more water: I know, I know. "Drink more water" is one of the rules you're told to obey if you want to do everything from lose weight to win the lottery. But if you're dehydrated, your digestive system really does struggle to do its thing, resulting in constipation. So aim for at least 0.5 gallons / 2 litres of water every day. And if that doesn't help, drink more!
  • Increase your fibre intake: Just like water, fibre also helps your digestive system function. So even if you think you're getting enough fibre, try and squeeze in some extra anyway. Healthy sources of fibre include wholewheat bread, low FODMAP fruits and vegetables, chia seeds and flax seeds.
  • Laxatives: Taking laxatives, like Ducolax, is a quick and effective way of easing constipation. But you need to be really careful if you go down this road. If you take laxatives too frequently, your body will adapt and you won't be able to go to the bathroom "naturally" anymore.
  • Salt water flush: I was in two minds whether I should share this one or not. But it works every time for me, so I'm going to. A salt water flush involves mixing 0.25 gallons / 1 litre of water with some lemon juice and sea salt then downing it as quickly as you can first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. The taste is beyond disgusting and there's no doubt that you'll gag a couple of times, but it has the quickest natural laxative effect I've ever known and will make you feel a lot better.

Steaming mug of tea to ease IBS symptoms

IBS symptoms | Bloating and flatulence

I honestly think these two are some of the worst IBS symptoms, especially the bloating. To anyone who's never experienced IBS, being a bit bloated doesn't sound like a big deal. But I know how horrible it is to wake up in the morning with a totally flat stomach only to look six months pregnant minutes after eating breakfast. Here are the treatments I've found most effective for bloating and flatulence:

Treatments for bloating and flatulence

  • Charcoal pills: Honestly, this one never worked for me, but there are loads of stories online from people who swear by it. Simply pop an activated charcoal pill an hour or so after you eat and wait for your IBS symptoms to disappear. Charcoal pills do absorb nutrients and medication, so be very careful about when you take them.
  • Follow a low FODMAP diet: There are all kinds of foods that can cause bloating and flatulence. From hard-to-digest dairy and gluten to carbohydrates and fats, the easiest way to find out if any specific foods are giving you nasty symptoms is to try a low FODMAP diet.
  • Drink some peppermint tea: This is another treatment for IBS symptoms that's easy to do when you've got people round or if you're out. A steaming hot mug of peppermint tea sweetened with a bit of sugar or, preferably, a tiny bit of Stevia will ease your bloating and help with stomach cramps, too.

IBS symptoms are truly awful and they can really impact your outlook on yourself, your health and your life. These are the IBS treatments I turn to when I need relief and I really hope they can help you feel as good as they make me feel!

About Nicola

I’m Nicola, the face behind Happy Healthy Motivated – your go-to guide to becoming your best you!
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