10 Tips for IBS Pain Relief That Anyone Can Do

Unlike many other health conditions, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) relief is not often found by taking one simple medication. Instead, people with IBS typically use a variety of strategies to reduce their symptoms.

From heat and tea to ease stomach discomfort to carefully planning what you eat and learning ways to relax, there are a number of approaches that you can take. Because everyone dealing with IBS is different, some treatments may work better for you than others and you might benefit from a unique combination of strategies.

Along with your healthcare provider's suggestions, these tips may help you find some relief from the everyday pains of IBS.

Use Heat

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There are two wonderfully soothing options here: a heating pad or a hot water bottle. Each of them offers a unique advantage. A heating pad provides heat that is a little stronger than that of a hot water bottle. However, a hot water bottle is safe to use while you sleep.

Either option is simple—just place the pad or bottle on the part of your tummy that feels the worst. Whichever option you use, be sure to protect your skin with a layer or two of clothing to prevent burns.

In addition to the psychological benefits of warmth, research suggests that external heat can provide pain relief. 

Sip a Soothing Tea

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Like your warm heating pad, a cup of herbal tea provides some much-needed psychological soothing. However, herbal teas bring something else to the table.

Several types of herbal tea have long been used to ease digestive symptoms. For instance, peppermint tea is a great option for pain because it soothes the GI tract. Similarly, anise and fennel teas may help ease constipation.

Take a Probiotic Supplement

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Anecdotally, the use of probiotics has helped some people with IBS. Tagged as "friendly" bacteria, these microorganism strains work to balance the bacteria within the gut. The strain with the most research support to date is Bifidobacterium infantis.

However, the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) has recommended against the use of probiotics for IBS symptoms. This is primarily due to a lack of high-quality research on the subject as well as the difficulty in determining the different effects of different probiotic strains.

If you think probiotics might be right for you, be sure to discuss the pros and cons with your healthcare provider.

You can also get probiotics in food?

Fermented foods are those that are prepared in a way that they contain various strains of gut-friendly probiotics. These are not as exotic as they sound, either. Yogurt and sauerkraut (fresh, not canned) are two popular examples.

Keep a Food Diary

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Sometimes you can eat something and be perfectly fine. Yet, on another day that same food has you doubling over in pain. It can be a mystery as to why that is.

A food diary is one way to help take the randomness out of your symptoms. It can track what you're eating, how you're feeling, and other circumstances that may make a difference. This written record may help you identify some patterns that you are not yet aware of.

All you have to do is to keep a written account of what foods you are eating along with other external factors (stress, sleep, menstrual cycle, etc.) that might be contributing to your distress. It doesn't have to be extensive—just quick notes will do.

Learn What You Can and Can't Eat

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You are not crazy if you think that the foods you are eating contribute to the problem. There are two basic directions you could go to figure out your IBS trigger foods:

  • Consider the low-FODMAP diet. The low-FODMAP diet is the only diet recommended by the ACG. It has research support for its effectiveness in reducing IBS symptoms. The diet requires that you restrict certain carbohydrates for a period of time and then slowly add them back to assess your tolerance.
  • Try an elimination diet. An elimination diet involves avoiding all potential trigger foods for a period of four to eight weeks to assess any effect on your symptoms. At the end of the elimination period, you reintroduce foods one at a time to see if they cause problems.

There are also certain foods that can trigger—or ease—specific IBS symptoms. Learning which foods contribute to—or relieve—gas, constipation, and diarrhea can do wonders for your everyday health and well-being. 

Slowly Increase Your Fiber Intake

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Many people dealing with IBS are unnecessarily afraid of fiber for fear that it will worsen their symptoms. Dietary fiber, which can be found in fruits, vegetables, and grains, is actually essential for optimal intestinal functioning. 

The ACG recommends increasing your intake of soluble but not insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves easily in water, while insoluble fiber does not. Common sources of soluble fiber include oats, peas, apples, beans, and citrus fruits.

For people with sensitive GI systems, like those with IBS, it is important to increase fiber intake very slowly so that your colon has time to adjust.

When it comes to fiber, there are two more things to keep in mind. First, beware of bran, as many people with IBS say it irritates their system. Second, when increasing your fiber intake, it may help to start with low-FODMAP fruits and vegetables and those high in soluble fiber.

Learn How to Eat Right

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While you may find that there are specific foods that make your IBS worse, it may also be worth your time to take a look at your eating habits. These can also have an effect on bowel functioning.

Some specific strategies include:

  • Eating on a regular, predictable schedule
  • Eating smaller meals
  • Avoiding greasy, fatty foods
  • Avoiding gassy foods

Learn Relaxation Exercises

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Since IBS symptoms are often affected by stress, one of the mightiest weapons in your IBS arsenal is the ability to physically calm your body.

A regular practice of relaxation exercises helps to lower your baseline anxiety level. In addition, they offer you a way to manage anxiety symptoms in real time when such anxiety is triggered by external events like an IBS attack.

There are three basic types of exercises—visualization, deep breathing, and ​muscle relaxation. With a little experimentation, you can decide which works best for you. 

Try Guided Imagery for Pain Relief

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Guided imagery is a technique that involves using the power of the imagination in an attempt to bring about desired changes within the body. Although there is no research specifically endorsing guided imagery for IBS, there is research showing that it has eased suffering from a wide variety of other ailments.

The nice thing about guided imagery is that it is a safe technique to practice. This is something that you can try on your own or with the help of a trained professional.

Gut-Directed Therapy

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Let's face it, IBS is stressful. The stress of IBS often serves to make symptoms worse. 

There is no need to go it alone. A wonderful option is an online IBS support group, which can easily be found on standalone websites or social media sites like Facebook.

Another option is to seek the services of a qualified psychotherapist. The ACG recommends gut-directed psychotherapy, which takes the same cognitive behavioral approach as therapy used to treat chronic pain and anxiety. Therapy targets the connections between outside stressors, your brain, and your gut. In addition, working with a good therapist can help you to better deal with the stress and disruptive nature of IBS.

Two forms of therapy, in particular, have research support for their effectiveness in reducing IBS symptoms—cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy.

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