10 Tips for IBS Pain Relief That Anyone Can Do

People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) don't usually get relief from taking one simple medication, as people often do for other health issues. Instead, people with IBS may use many strategies to reduce their symptoms.

There are quite a few approaches that you can take, from drinking tea for your stomach discomfort to learning ways to relax. Because everyone dealing with IBS is different, some treatments may work better for you than others. You might even benefit from a unique mix of strategies.

This article offers some ideas on how to manage IBS symptoms. Along with your healthcare provider's suggestions, these tips may help you to find some relief from the everyday pains of IBS.

Use Heat

woman sleeping with a hot water bottle on stomach

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There are two soothing options here: a heating pad or a hot water bottle. Each of them offers a different 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. In both cases, be sure to protect your skin with a layer or two of clothing to prevent burns.

There are psychological benefits to the warmth. Better still, 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 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 digestive tract. In a similar way, anise and fennel teas may help ease constipation.

Take a Probiotic Supplement

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Some people report that the use of probiotics has helped them with IBS. These "friendly" 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) recommends against the use of probiotics for IBS symptoms. This is primarily due to a lack of high-quality research on the subject. It also reflects the difficulty in determining the specific 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.

Are There Probiotics in Food?

Fermented foods are prepared so 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

man writing in a diary

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

A food diary is one way to help take some of the uncertainty out of your symptoms. It can track what you're eating, how you're feeling, and any other circumstances that may have influenced your IBS symptoms. This record may help you to identify any patterns you are not aware of.

All you have to do is to keep a written account of what foods you are eating along with other factors, such as sleep, stress, or your period. It doesn't have to be extensive—just quick notes on what may contribute to IBS distress 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 eat contribute to the problem. There are two main ways to identify your IBS trigger foods:

  • Try an elimination diet. An elimination diet involves avoiding all potential trigger foods for a period of four to eight weeks. This gives you time to assess any effect on your symptoms. At the end of the time period, you add foods back one at a time to see if they cause problems.
  • Consider the low-FODMAP diet. The low-FODMAP diet is a type of elimination diet, and it's the only diet recommended by the ACG. Research supports its effectiveness in reducing IBS symptoms. The diet requires that you limit certain carbohydrates for a period of time. You then slowly add them back to see how your body responds.

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

Slowly Increase Your Fiber Intake

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Many people with IBS are unnecessarily afraid of fiber. They fear that it will make their symptoms worse. Dietary fiber, which can be found in fruits, vegetables, and grains, is actually essential to keep your digestive system working at its best. 

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 digestive 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. Many people with IBS say it irritates their systems. Second, when boosting 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

man waiting for food

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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 function.

Some specific strategies include:

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

Recap

The foods you eat may contribute to your IBS symptoms, but you may not know which ones bother you. It's a good idea to think about when and how you eat, and a food diary can help you to track your experiences. Both the low-FODMAP diet and the elimination diet may help you to see which foods cause gas, diarrhea, and other symptoms.

Learn Relaxation Exercises

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Since IBS symptoms are often affected by stress, one of the mightiest tools in your IBS kit is to know how to physically calm your body.

A regular practice of relaxation exercises helps to lower your baseline anxiety level. This practice also offers you a way to manage symptoms in real time when anxiety is caused by events like an IBS attack.

There are three basic types of exercises: visualization, deep breathing, and ​muscle relaxation. Try them out and see which works best for you. 

Try Guided Imagery for Pain Relief

man sitting with eyes closed

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Guided imagery is a technique that uses the power of the imagination in seeking to bring about the changes you want within your body. Be aware that there is no research specifically endorsing guided imagery for IBS. However, there is research to show its benefits in dealing with 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

two women in therapy session

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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. One good 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 out a qualified psychotherapist. The ACG recommends gut-directed psychotherapy. This 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.

Summary

People who deal with IBS symptoms have a lot of available options that may help to reduce their discomfort and improve quality of life. Some of them are simple measures, like using heat or sipping tea to be more comfortable. Others focus on stress and relaxation techniques.

As you might imagine, though, a number of the strategies focus on foods and how you eat. A food diary will help you to track what you eat and the symptoms you experience. Diet changes, like adding fiber or eliminating the FODMAP foods that trouble you, may go a long way to improve your gut health.

If you have concerns about IBS symptoms, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider.

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7 Sources
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