Your Health

Lifestyle Changes to Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

There is no cure for IBS. But, many people are able to control their symptoms with lifestyle modifications, stress management, and medicines. Treatment tends to focus on managing the condition by reducing the frequency and severity of symptoms.

Ways to Manage Your Symptoms

Diarrhea
  • Keep a food diary and avoid those foods that cause symptoms.
  • Eat foods that can help firm up stools, such as cheese and bananas.
Constipation
  • Consider foods that stimulate bowel movements, such as high-fiber foods, fruits, and prune juice.
  • Consider a fiber supplement to help soften your stool and make bowel movements easier.
  • Consider stool softeners.
Gas
  • Keep a food diary and avoid those foods that cause gas. Foods that commonly cause gas are:
  • Legumes (beans)
  • Fructose and sorbitol in beverages
  • Dairy products
  • To help reduce gas caused by legumes, try Beano.
  • If dairy products cause gas, take the lactase enzyme when eating dairy foods, or try lactose-free milk or substitute yogurt for milk.
  • Try simethicone to reduce gas accumulation.
Cramps
  • Place hot or cold packs on your abdomen.
  • Limit caffeine.
Emotional Health

IBS can disrupt your life. It is very stressful to worry about having poor bowel control. Also, emotional stress is strongly linked to worsening of symptoms.

Consider counseling or others methods of reducing your stress. These include:

  • Relaxation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Biofeedback
  • Counseling to help develop coping skills
  • Yoga
  • Hypnosis

Other Lifestyle Changes

Education

Learn as much as you can about IBS and ways that you can reduce your symptoms. You may also find it helpful to join a support group where you can gain information and share your experiences.

Diet

What you eat plays a major role in treating your IBS. The first consideration is adequate nutrition. Because you may decide to avoid certain foods because they cause symptoms, make sure you are not missing out on essential nutrients. For example, if you avoid dairy products, it may be difficult to meet your calcium needs. You may need to take a calcium supplement. A registered dietitian can help you determine if your diet is complete and how best to supplement it.

Food Restrictions

There are some foods more likely to cause symptoms in people with IBS. However, reactions to foods are very individualized, and you may find that foods other than those listed here also cause symptoms.

Here are some tips:

  • Keep a food diary, listing what you eat and what the reaction is. Discuss the findings with your doctor or dietitian.
  • Make gradual changes to your diet and record the results.
  • Avoid foods that have provoked symptoms more than once. A dietitian can help you choose substitutes for offending foods.
  • The following foods and drinks may provoke symptoms:
    • High-fat foods
    • Spicy foods
    • Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream)
    • Legumes (dried beans, such as chickpeas, black beans, lentils, kidney beans, and others)
    • Onions
    • Cabbage
    • Other gas-producing foods
    • Large amounts of alcohol or caffeine
    • Sweetening agents, such as sorbitol and fructose (check the fine print on the food label)
  • Eat foods that may reduce the risk of spasm, such as:
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Whole grains and other high-fiber foods (Note: Until your body adjusts, more fiber may increase gas and bloating; increase your fiber intake slowly and drink lots of fluids. Talk with your healthcare provider about the proper amount of fiber you should have in your diet.)
  • Eat smaller meals more often or smaller portions, rather than eating a few large meals.
  • Eat slowly and try not to swallow air.
  • Drink more water to help reduce constipation.

When to Contact Your Doctor

A working relationship with your doctor is critical to effective treatment. Find someone with whom you feel comfortable and stay in regular contact. Be sure to report any new symptoms or significant worsening of others.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
  • Review Date: 12/2013 -
  • Update Date: 00/11/2013 -
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  • American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org. Accessed March 3, 2006.

  • American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.fascrs.org. Accessed March 3, 2006.

  • Fauci AS, Braunwald E, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2000.

  • 7/16/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Dorn SD. Systematic review: self-management support interventions for irritable bowel syndrome. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2010 May 22. [Epub ahead of print]

  • 4/22/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Johannesson E, Simrén M, et al. Physical activity improves symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011 Jan 4. [Epub ahead of print]