Coping With IBS-A

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If you been diagnosed with alternating or mixed-type irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-A or IBS-M), you’re likely dealing with bowel symptoms that range from diarrhea to constipation. While there isn’t a cure for IBS-A, there are strategies that you can use to help manage symptoms and cope with daily life.

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Emotional

IBS symptoms can often be triggered by stress. Your digestive system and brain communicate with each other in what’s called a brain-gut connection. When stress disturbs that, your symptoms can be aggravated.

Finding ways to cope with emotions and manage stress can help ease symptoms of IBS. Some strategies include:

  • Deep breathing: A 2015 study found that breathing exercises, plus meditation, helped manage IBS symptoms and anxiety. Try dedicating a few minutes a day to deep breathing. Place one hand on your stomach above your belly button. Take a slow breath inward, bringing the air down to your stomach so you can feel your hand rise. Pause briefly, and exhale slowly through your nose and mouth. Continue these slow breaths five to 10 times each.
  • Yoga: Another study found that a 12-week yoga class improved symptoms in IBS patients as well as their quality of life. The combination of poses and movement with deep breathing was found to reduce the stress related to IBS.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you identify stressful or negative thoughts and learn how to modify your response. A 2019 study found that CBT sessions with a professional that were accessed by phone or internet helped reduce IBS symptoms and increase the quality of life for participants for up to 24 months. 

If you’re experiencing anxiety or depression, talk to your physician immediately. They can help you find support and treatment.

Physical 

As you are likely already well aware, diet can play a role in triggering IBS-A symptoms as well. Your doctor may recommend specific changes to your diet to see if they help.

Know, however, that you may need to change what you eat for several weeks before you can tell if your symptoms are improving.

Strategies may include:

  • Avoiding trigger foods: These can include caffeine, alcohol, dairy, chocolate, and fried and fatty foods. Your doctor may also suggest avoiding gluten to see if your IBS symptoms improve. Gluten can be found in pasta, cereal, breads, and many processed foods.
  • Increasing fiber: Fiber can improve symptoms in mixed-type IBS. If you're constipated, it can help make stools softer so you can pass them more easily. If you have diarrhea, foods with soluble fiber, like berries and oats, can help by slowing the passage of food to the intestines and adding bulk to stools. Make sure you add foods slowly so that your body can adjust. If you add more fiber too quickly, it can cause gas, bloating, and abdominal pain.
  • Eating low FODMAP foods: FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Studies have found that about 70% of IBS patients have fewer symptoms with a low-FODMAP diet. Low-FODMAP foods include bananas, strawberries, grapes, chicken, tofu, eggs, carrots, and corn. You might want to avoid high-FODMAP foods, which are carbohydrates that are hard to digest. Examples include apples, watermelon, artichokes, garlic, beans, mushrooms, dairy, wheat, and rye products. 

Talk with your doctor before making any changes to your diet. Dietary changes that work for IBS can vary from person to person, and any adjustments will need to take your overall nutrition into account—especially since malabsorption of nutrients can occur with IBS.

Social 

Sometimes talking with people about IBS can help to reduce your stress. IBS support groups or online groups are available to connect you with people with similar conditions. They can be a great source of advice and perspective on the challenges of living with IBS. Sometimes even just hearing that someone else is facing similar challenges can help you feel less alone.

Group therapy sessions may help reduce stress as well as symptoms. A 2003 study found that cognitive-behavioral group therapy helped IBS patients in improving symptoms, psychological stress, and quality of life.

Ask your doctor about IBS support groups or therapy groups. They may be able to help you to find ones that meet in your area. 

Talking with friends and family can also help you to manage your IBS-related stress. Let them know that IBS-A might affect you differently day to day so they have a better understanding of it.

Even if they don't personally know what you are going through, they may be able to offer support when you’re changing your diet or try new relaxation techniques along with you. And at the very least, they can provide some welcome distraction.

Practical

While you may have limited control over some of what you experience, taking on more practical challenges can go a long way in easing the burden of your condition, and making life more enjoyable.

A few things to consider:

  • Ask for help: If you’re experiencing symptoms, ask for assistance when you need it. Talk to your family and friends and let them know what they can do when you’re not feeling your best. It may help to have a list (say, of common groceries or daily chores) handy.
  • Travel wisely: When you’re traveling, carry a “survival kit” with you. That might include a change of clothes, wet wipes, tissues, and any medication that you need. If you’re on a plane, ask for a seat that’s closest to the restroom. Consider driving to destinations if it makes it easier to stop for a restroom.
  • Plan ahead when dining out: Don't miss out on dinner with a friend. Look at a restaurant's menu online, if possible, and ask for substitutions if there’s an ingredient that makes your symptoms act up.

A Word From Verywell

While these coping strategies can go a long way, they alone may not be enough to help ease your symptoms and improve life with IBS-A. If you're struggling, speak with your doctor. An adjustment in your treatment may be needed.

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Article Sources
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