Five ways to manage irritable bowel syndrome

People who have never suffered with irritable bowel syndrome may snicker at the name, but IBS can cause agony, bringing strong people to tears.

If ignored, IBS can demand emergency hospital visits. Potential complications can include perforations. At an extreme, doctors may recommend bowel resection or use of a colostomy bag for a few months to reduce irritation and allow for healing.

Nobody wants it to get that far. If you have IBS, here are some ways to keep safe, healthy and pain free.

1. Acquire a writing habit
Buy a journal. Make it one you like, so that you can enjoy handling it. Get something small enough that you can carry it if you go out to lunch, but large enough that you can take notes easily.

Write down everything you eat or drink, and put the time beside it. Be mindful of how you feel, marking even subtle changes. Record not only what you ate, but also how everything you ingested affected (or didn’t affect) your health.

If color works for you, buy highlighters. Choose one color to mark foods that have a bad effect, another for foods that leave you feeling fine, a different one for the first time you introduce — or reintroduce — a particular food into your diet.

2. Talk with experts
Adults are used to making their own decisions. Nobody tells grown-ups when to clean their rooms or go to bed, or sets down laws on when or what to eat. With all of its don’ts, IBS can make the most mature person want to rebel. The advice your doctor, pharmacist and nutritionist give you cannot be ignored. Sometimes, they can be negotiated. Through conversing with your professionals, you become part of the pit crew, making your problems and solutions match.

3. Share information
Remember that journal? Make your health care professionals happy and bring it with you to your appointments. Keep lists of “include” and “avoid” ingredients where family shoppers can see them. That will help your doctor, dietitian and family, as well as you, know what will keep you well.

4. Shed stress
Stress can exacerbate IBS symptoms. You may not feel like going to the gym or tackling a five-mile run, but going for a walk around the block can help to release endorphins and blow off a little steam.

Don’t underrate the value of taking a quick break. Even a few minutes in nature can ease the mind. In a city, find a tree, a fountain or a flower shop, and just let yourself breathe. Speaking of breathing, brief meditations can help to spread calm across the day. Plenty of books and apps offer guides to meditation. Give yourself time to find ones that suit you, or ask your doctor whether stress-relief and meditation classes are available as part of your treatment.

5. Find alternatives
If you find it hard to give up a particular food, your dietitian might have a satisfying substitute. Don’t decide that one sesame bagel won’t kill you. Instead of chowing down on all of those texture-bearing seeds, talk with your team about other foods that might provide similar, less dangerous, pleasures.

Don’t dismiss substitutes too swiftly. As with other changes, switches in your diet can take time to become natural. Over time, new items will become familiar comfort foods, ones that reward you with energy instead of irritation.

A side effect of all of these: learning that you aren’t alone in caring for your health. That security will help to decrease stress, making a positive attitude and healthier choices part of your daily life.