Many people are now aware of what IBS is and it is tempting to self-diagnose. However, it is important see your Doctor to make sure that Coeliac Disease (an autoimmune condition with the same symptoms) and other conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases are ruled out first. This is done by having a blood test. Before being tested for Coeliac Disease, make sure you are eating normal amounts of gluten (found in wheat, rye and barley) as it will not be accurate if you have already taken gluten out of your diet.
Keep a diary
Start by recording when you get symptoms and what they are alongside what you are eating and doing. This will help identify any patterns. Remember that it can take six to eight hours for food to reach the large intestine so symptoms may not be due to what you have just eaten, but the meal(s) before. The timing will also vary on the content of the meal, but keeping a record is a good place to start and will be helpful to look back on.
Eat regular meals
The digestive system works better with a regular routine. Try to keep to a regular meal pattern if you can; you may find that eating smaller more frequent meals is better than having fewer larger meals.
Chew your food well
This seems obvious but many of us often eat in a rush and don’t chew our foods well – which means our digestive systems have to work harder! So give it a helping hand and try to take time over eating.
Manage your stress levels
Stressful situations can make anyone have ‘butterflies’ or cause extra visits to the toilet. For some people though, ongoing high stress levels may contribute to IBS symptoms. If this sounds like you, try to find time to unwind; this may be a few minutes deep breathing at intervals during the day, or going for a walk, or joining an exercise class for example.
Adjust your diet
Dietary changes can be very effective. It is best to seek advice from an experienced Dietitian to ensure you make the right changes and maintain a balanced diet. You could try the following tips though to get you started:
For constipation: increase fibre from fruits, vegetables and oats e.g. porridge, oatcakes, flapjacks. Linseeds (flaxseeds) can also be helpful – try 1tbsp (ground or whole) on your cereal or in yoghurt. Also try to drink plenty of fluid throughout the day and have at least 150mls along with the linseeds.
For diarrhoea; try reducing caffeine and alcohol intake. If you eat wholegrains and lots of fruits and vegetables, it may be that you having more fibre than your digestive system can cope with. So try reducing these for a few weeks and see if this helps.
Lactose intolerance can also cause diarrhoea plus wind and bloating; you could try having lactose free milk and products instead of your usual products for a couple of weeks and see if your symptoms improve.
Wind and bloating can be worsened by some fruit and vegetables e.g. apples, plums, dried fruit, onions, pulses and brassicas. Reducing your intake of these and also sorbitol in some sugar free sweets and drinks can help.
NICE Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Adults; diagnosis and management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Primary Care CG61. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg61/chapter/1-Recommendations#clinical-management-of-ibs
McKenzie YA, Alder A, Anderson W, Wills A Goddard L, Gulia P, Jankovich E, Mutch P, Reeves LB, Singer A & Lomer MCE on behalf of Gastroenterology Specialist Group of the British Dietetic Association. (2012) British Dietetic Association evidence-based practice guidelines for the dietary management of irritable bowel syndrome in adults. J Hum Nutr Diet. 25, 260–274.http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-277X.2012.01242.x/abstract