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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Lifestyle habits can worsen or improve IBS symptoms. The exact steps will be different for everyone. You and your care team will find the steps that work best for you. It may take some time and trial and error before you find the plan right for you.

The most common factors include:

Eating and Food Choices

Some habits can make symptoms worse. Take note of what problems you have with what foods.

Some people find eating smaller meals or eating at regular times helps ease symptoms. To start, you may also want to limit:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Fresh fruit
  • Processed and recooked foods

Elimination diets can identify certain foods that cause problems. An example is food that have gluten. Gluten is found in cereals, pastas, and breads with wheat, rye, or barley. This may not work for everyone. A dietitian can help you.

Fiber

Fiber comes in 2 forms:

  • Soluble—Softens stool and makes it easier to pass. It can be found in foods like oats, fruits, beans, and avocados. This is helpful for IBS with constipation.
  • Insoluble—This type does not break down in the body. It can add bulk to the stool and make it easier to move out of the body. This fiber can be found in whole grains and vegetables. Foods include bran, nuts, seeds, and barley.

Soluble fiber may ease symptoms better than insoluble fiber. Slowly add fiber to your diet. At first, it may cause more bloating and gas, but this will go away as you get used to it. You may need to make small changes until you find the right balance.

Low FODMAP Diet

Some carbs are harder to break down than others. These can aggravate symptoms. Your doctor may recommend that you limit these carbs including:

  • F ermentable
  • O ligosaccharides
  • D isaccharides
  • M onosaccharides
  • Sugar A lcohols
  • P olyols

This is called the FODMAP diet. It may be an option if other methods are not helping. A dietitian will help you choose foods and plan meals. Problem foods will be slowly removed from your diet over time to try to find what is causing problems.

Exercise

Regular activity can help your body's digestive system. It may help to ease IBS symptoms. It can also decrease stress and improve your overall mood.

Find an activity you like to do. Aim for 150 hours of activity a week. A trainer can help you design a program.

Emotional Health

IBS can cause stress. Find time to relax and ways to reduce stress. Some people find these helpful:

Therapy

Chronic conditions can be stressful. It may also affect your relationships. A support group can be helpful. Others with IBS may be able to give tips on how to manage symptoms. It may also be helpful just to share concerns.

IBS can be very frustrating, especially if you haven't found an effective treatment. Personal therapymay help to improve your outlook and coping skills. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy. You can learn how to better manage problems out of your control. It may not affect IBS itself, but can improve quality of life.

REFERENCES:

Eating, diet, & nutrition for irritable bowel syndrome. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome/eating-diet-nutrition. Updated November 2017. Accessed June 7, 2019.

Ford AC, Lacy BE, Talley NJ. Irritable bowel syndrome. N Engl J Med. 2017;376(26):2566-2578.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113627/Irritable-bowel-syndrome-IBS. Updated September 10, 2018. Accessed June 7, 2019.

Wilkins T, Pepitone C, Alex B, Schade RR. Diagnosis and management of IBS in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(5):419-426.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD  Last Updated: 6/7/2019