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Personalize your prevention

The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing. Cramping, bloating, gas, and diarrhea are never fun. Yet there are several lifestyle changes and home remedies that you can try to provide some relief. Although everyone’s body is different, once you find remedies that work, you can try using them to prevent discomfort.

For many people, exercise is a tried and true way to relieve stress, depression, and anxiety — especially when it’s done consistently. Anything that relieves stress can help with bowel discomfort by stimulating regular intestinal contractions. If you’re not used to exercising, be sure to start slow and work your way up. The American Heart Association recommends exercising for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

Incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine can be beneficial to everyone, especially if you’re living with IBS. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders describes three relaxation techniques that have been shown to reduce symptoms of IBS. These techniques include:

  • diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • visualization/positive imagery

Fiber is a bit of a mixed bag for IBS sufferers. It helps ease some symptoms, including constipation, but can actually worsen other symptoms like cramping and gas. Still, high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, and beans are recommended as an IBS treatment if taken gradually over several weeks. In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you take a fiber supplement, such as Metamucil, rather than dietary fiber. According to the recommendations from the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), food that contains psyllium (a type of fiber) may help more with the symptoms of IBS than food that contains bran.

Shop for Metamucil.

Some people who are lactose intolerant have IBS. If you’re one of them, you can try eating yogurt instead of milk for your dairy requirements — or consider using an enzyme product to help you process lactose. Your doctor may recommend avoiding dairy products entirely, in which case you’ll need to ensure that you consume enough protein and calcium from other sources. Talk to a dietitian if you have questions about how to do this.

Your over-the-counter (OTC) choices can improve your IBS symptoms or make them worse, depending on how you use them. The Mayo Clinic recommends using caution if you use OTC antidiarrheal medicines, such as Kaopectate or Imodium, or laxatives, such as polyethylene glycol or milk of magnesia. Some medicines need to be taken 20 to 30 minutes before you eat to help prevent symptoms. Follow the directions on the package to avoid problems.

It goes without saying that certain foods can make gastrointestinal (GI) pain worse. Be on the lookout for which foods exacerbate your symptoms, and be sure to avoid them. Some common problem foods and drinks include:

  • beans
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • alcohol
  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • soda
  • dairy products

While there are some foods that you should avoid, there are also some foods you can eat that can help IBS. The ACG suggests that foods containing probiotics, or bacteria that is helpful to your digestive system, have helped relieve some symptoms of IBS, such as bloating and gas.

IBS can be a pain in the stomach, but you can take steps to prevent or alleviate symptoms. Managing your stress and watching your diet are two of the best ways to relieve IBS symptoms from home. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re uncertain about which lifestyle techniques to try or the best way to start them.