Because shit happens sometimes.
Keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, and that what may work for someone else may not necessarily work for you. Always make sure to consult your doctor before changing your diet, lifestyle, or starting any kind of new treatment. Also, everyone experiences IBS differently, but whether you have IBS as a chronic problem or find yourself often dealing with some of the symptoms of IBS, these things definitely aren't easy.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be debilitating and seriously affect the way someone lives their everyday life.
IBS is a common chronic condition that affects the large intestine and usually includes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation, Dr. Lawrence Szarka, a gastroenterologist with the Department of Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic, tells BuzzFeed Health. It’s not to be confused with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, which can involve severe diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever, weight loss, and can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications.
While there’s no cure for IBS, in most cases you can learn to control symptoms with medication, diet, lifestyle changes, and by managing stress. So we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share what tips/hacks they use to make living with IBS, or symptoms of IBS, a little less ~unpredictable~.
Here, we've included all their awesome advice, all of which has been reviewed by Szarka. Alright, let's get into it!
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Keep a ~safe~ snack on you at all times so you're never on an empty stomach.
"Keep it simple and make sure it’s something you can eat without having any issues. It could be something like peanut butter, or saltines."
"I have IBS-D (IBS-D includes IBS symptoms, plus increased diarrhea and frequent bowel movements), and I've learned that when I let my stomach go completely empty, it increases the chances of my colon spasming."
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Map out where the nearest, accessible public restrooms are before going somewhere new.
"I've learned that I don't necessarily have bad weeks/months, but bad days. I make sure I know where the public restrooms are when I'm out. It eases my mind to know there are multiple places I can pop into if I really need to. The key for me is to reduce stress."
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And have a detailed plan of what you're going to eat, and how you'll deal with flare-ups, when you're going to be traveling for long periods of time.
"Whenever I know I'm going to be away from a bathroom for a long time, say like when I'm traveling, I always take two Imodium and don't eat anything until I get to where I'm going. I drink ginger ale and keep peppermints in my purse to settle my stomach. It comes in handy sometimes if I'm stuck in traffic and get the urge to use the bathroom, but can't stop anywhere yet."
—Jacki Demchak, Facebook
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Try to take a good 20 minutes to relax after meals when you can.
"I try to manage my stress and anxiety about my issues with IBS by relaxing for a good 20 to 30 minutes after each meal. It gives my body time to digest and it gives me peace of mind knowing, that if I was to get sick, I could easily get to a bathroom. If I'm okay after 30 minutes, I’m usually in the clear and go on with my day without worrying about flare-ups."
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And maybe avoid pants with restrictive waistbands.
"Avoiding pants with very restrictive waistbands is a must, and definitely stay away from pants that need a belt. It's best to wear drawstring ~easy-to-fling-off~ bottoms. They will REALLY make things more comfortable when you're dealing with bloating and cramping, and they'll be easier to deal with if you're trying to use the bathroom in a hurry. Breathing exercises and a specific position when using the restroom could help as well."
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Try cutting down on processed foods, refined sugars, and alcohol.
"Cleaning up my eating and drinking helped me tremendously. I cut out/down on unnecessary sugar and simple carbs and it made a huge difference in how often I experience symptoms and how bad they are. The downside is that when I do eat the foods I cut down on (sometimes I just NEED sour cream and cheddar ruffles, okay), my reaction to them is way worse than before."
Have a game plan when eating out at restaurants.
"I rarely eat out, but when I do, I try to eat light and take home half of the meal so my stomach doesn't get too upset. Once I'm in the comfort of my own home, I can eat the rest and the potential consequences are easier to deal with. It’s also smart to map out the nearest and most comfortable bathroom in the vicinity, before things get messy."
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Keep on a consistent schedule with your meals, medications, types of foods you're eating, sleep, and bathroom routine.
"I cannot stress this enough! I always run out of my meds and feel like I don’t need them because my stomach has been ~fine~. But then I eat salsa and it feels like I'm dying, so I go to the ER and end up racking up a ton of bills. If you have a medication that works, even just a little, stick with it."
"I find the best way to avoid flare-ups is to eat and sleep on schedule. If either is out of the norm, my stomach will get really angry and it’s awful to deal with."
Follow your doctor’s advice, but adding fiber could help some of your symptoms. (Fiber could also make IBS symptoms worse in some people.)
"I had been following the diet my gastroenterologist told me since high school, but would still have bouts of constipation or diarrhea, especially if I cheated on the diet AT ALL. Now I take Metamucil capsules daily and rarely have a problem. But be careful and add fiber to your diet slowly. Getting too much at one time can cause gas and bloating."
"My gastro recommended Benefiber and it's helped so much. I've tried different probiotics and medications. But for me, modifying my diet, reducing stress, and taking Benefiber have helped the most."
Using peppermint oil could help reduce bloating and nausea.
“I struggle with IBS-D, and in addition to diarrhea, cramps, and pain, my flare-ups also include nausea. I drink peppermint tea and eat peppermint Tummydrops, which really helps ease up my system.”
And try a hot water bottle or heat patches if you're experiencing muscle cramping.
"I've had chronic IBS-D for 10 years, and my hot water bottle (a rechargeable electric one) is literally my best friend. I'm rarely without it when I'm at home. I'm also almost always wearing a sticky heat patch under my top. The heat relaxes my muscles, which helps with both constipation and diarrhea."
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Visit a gastroenterologist (a MD, who specializes in the GI tract) so he or she can diagnose you and pinpoint the best treatment for your symptoms.
"If you feel you need to see a gastro, do it. No one is a better advocate for you than yourself. DO NOT self-diagnose. It's incredibly important to make sure you don't have a serious autoimmune disease like celiac."
"See a gastroenterologist because there may be a medication out there that could really help you. I suddenly got IBS-D and I was so sick. I met with a gastroenterologist and he prescribed me a medication that literally changed my life. I don't go anywhere without it now."
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And make sure you're open and honest with your doc about your experiences — there's nothing to be embarrassed about.
"It can be embarrassing talking about things like diarrhea, bloating, and gas, but don't keep quiet about them just because they’re uncomfortable topics to bring up. Make sure you see a gastroenterologist and be very detailed when explaining what you’re experiencing. The more info you give, the higher the likelihood that a gastro can properly diagnose you and treat you."
—Shelby Thompson, Facebook
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And it's okay to get a second opinion if your treatment isn't working for you.
"It might not be IBS. If treatments aren't working, make sure your doctor has explored all other options. I was told I had IBS since I was a teenager. Once I had this label, every other gastroenterologist just accepted it even though none of the treatments were working for me. Turns out I have cystic fibrosis. There are a lot of other diseases that can look like IBS, make sure you're getting diagnosed correctly."
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Start keeping a daily diary of what you're eating and the symptoms you're experiencing, so you can try and identify trigger foods.
"Everyone with IBS has different triggers, and keeping a diary could be the key to finding yours. Once I was having a month long flare-up (longer than any I'd had before), so I decided to write down everything I ate and when I had to go to the bathroom.
I didn't feel like going to the store one weekend and ended up making random meals with food I already had. Amazingly, just one day later I felt better! I looked through my journal and discovered everything I ate was vegan. Knowing how much better I felt in that short timeframe made me want to keep eating that way. And now three years later, I'm still vegan and my flare-ups are few and far between."
Or download an app that specializes in tracking those things and formulating a diet that works for you.
"I have IBS and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can sometimes get really tricky. There's an app called CARA, that tracks your IBS symptoms (like poop, pain, mood, food, sleep, workouts, and more) and then will tell you, at the end of each week, what foods bothered/didn't bother you. It honestly has changed my life, and I've successfully cut out lots of my trigger foods! I definitely recommend this to anyone who suffers from IBS."
"Get the Low FODmap Diet app from Monash University! Its not a free app, but it's worth the money. It uses the traffic light system (pictured above) to show you what foods to avoid and what foods are okay."
BUT, don't make any serious changes to your diet before getting checked out by a gastro.
"It will be hard for a gastro to properly diagnose you if you've already cut things from your diet when you first meet with them. For example, when getting tested for celiac disease, you must be eating enough gluten (equivalent to two slices of bread) daily, for six to eight weeks, in order for the test results to be as accurate as possible. Otherwise, you could risk a false negative."
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Avoiding trigger foods will make things easier for you — but if you are going to eat them, make sure you have the time to deal with the aftermath.
"Know your triggers and really try your best to avoid them. But, if you're really craving something you know will set you off, plan ahead and make sure you have the time to deal with whatever issues will probably arise."
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Keep your prescribed medications or pain relievers on you at all times in case of really bad flare-ups.
"I keep Imodium in literally every bag I carry, as well as in my car, bathroom, and even my boyfriend's car, just in case. It's worth stashing everywhere if it means being prepared for an episode."
—Corinne Elizabeth, Facebook
"I always have a pain reliever on me just in case of a flare-up. Because if I do have one, and it's in the middle of a lecture, I will need something to relieve the pain until I can get to a bathroom or go home."
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And there's no shame in keeping an extra pair of underwear on you, just in case.
"If you have an accident you're going to wish you had that change of underwear. It's always good to have it with you for emergencies."
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Don't be ashamed to talk to your friends and family members about your symptoms, it could actually make things easier on you.
"Telling people you have IBS is the biggest tip I can give. A lot of times it's easy to be embarrassed by it. I mean, who wants to go around telling people that sometimes you just uncontrollably have to shit? But sometimes the stress of wondering if I was going to have an episode just made matters worse. After I told my husband, he was really supportive and caring if I had to run to the bathroom after dinner, or if I said I wasn't feeling well. Talking about it makes it easier for people to be understanding and care for you."
"Letting my friends know I had IBS was such a relief because they didn't judge me if I was late meeting them somewhere, or if I needed to cancel, or if I needed to use their bathroom while hanging out. I grew up being so embarrassed that I would leave friend's houses to go at fast food restaurants. Everyone has their own health issues and it helps to talk about them and even make jokes sometimes."
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Get in some cardio exercise a few times per week.
"Fiber and exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, has helped me. I used to suffer from horrible abdominal cramping that was just debilitating. I was put on medications and they helped to a degree. But once I began getting regular aerobic exercise in, my symptoms abated enough that I no longer needed medication."
—Gitai Ben-Ammi, Facebook
Understand that sometimes you're going to have episodes in public, and that's nothing to be ashamed about.
"Honestly, learning to accept my IBS and move past any shame was the best thing for me. Try to accept that you will have incidents in public. No one is going to know you're the one behind that stall door. And if they do, that's okay. Just let your body do its thing."
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And consider using products like Poo-Pourri, if it will make you feel more comfortable.
"Honestly the best product for ~smell~ is Poo-Pourri! Not only does it work, my significant other has actually told me how good it smells in the bathroom. He has no idea, lol."
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Find and reach out to a community that understands what you're going through.
"Sometimes when shit hits the fan (lol) the only thing I can do is remind myself that I'm not alone! Connecting with fellow IBS folk has really reduced my anxiety about having those embarrassing 'incidents.'"
Here's a roundup of problems only people with IBS will understand and a popular IBS Reddit thread in case you need further reminding that you're really not alone.
See if your IBS symptoms are tied to your mental health.
"My gastroenterologist put me on a prescription for a low-dose of an antidepressant, and since my IBS is mostly brought on by stress, it's helped a lot. Instead of having flare-ups every week, or every other week, it's been only every two months or so."
Here's a simple, yet helpful, beginner's guide to starting therapy.
And last but not least, have a little compassion for yourself, and know that you're not alone.
"Try to be a little easier on yourself. Dealing with IBS everyday changes your daily routine. But I try to remind myself that I am much more than my chronic illness."
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.