Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional disorder, meaning that it's a problem with how the intestines work, not a deficiency in the organ itself. So managing the symptoms is the key to reducing pain and discomfort.

To avoid or ease symptoms, you can:

  • Avoid problem foods. Alcohol, chocolate, caffeine, and sugar-free sweeteners such as sorbitol and mannitol often trigger IBS symptoms. High-fat foods can also make symptoms worse. Some people find that dairy products cause them problems.
  • Add fiber to your diet. Fiber can reduce constipation as well as diarrhea. Since it can also make gas and cramping worse, doctors suggest gradually adding more high-fiber foods to your diet, including fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads. Fiber supplements may also help.
  • Eat at regular times. Eating meals on a regular schedule helps control bowel function.
  • Eat smaller meals more often. Large meals can cause cramping and diarrhea.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Exercise regularly. Many people report improvement in symptoms just by walking 30 minutes daily. Exercise also helps reduce stress, which is a common trigger.
  • Reduce levels of stress. Options include counseling, meditation, regular exercise, relaxation exercises, deep breathing, biofeedback, and hypnosis.
  • Take over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications and laxatives judiciously, since they are not intended to be used too often or too long. Ask your doctor for advice.

Last reviewed on 7/28/09

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