Treating IBS isn’t as simple as taking a pill; it’s a combination of considering diet, lifestyle and sometimes medication to help control symptoms.
What makes it even trickier is that the condition varies so much between individuals; what works for one person might not work for another.
As part of our self-care week campaign focusing on patients’ experience of IBS, the leader of our brand new Liverpool support group, Lorna, talks about the treatments and approaches that help her manage her IBS.
I’ve suffered from IBS for about ten years now, and having identified my triggers I’m generally in a good place with it. That said, I still suffer a lot with the anxiety associated with having the condition. Naturally, when my anxiety’s bad it can cause a flare up, or I experience the flare up and that in turn exacerbates my anxiety — nightmare! That said there are things I do on a daily basis to alleviate symptoms and things I reach for when I need a bit of extra help:
- Prebiotics – I take a prebiotic on a daily basis after breakfast and can honestly say it has helped me. I never bloat like I used to, and within the first couple of days of taking it I could hear my stomach gurgling away, which reassured me that my digestive system was kicking in. I was definitely aware something was ‘happening’. Although I no longer feel an instant reaction to taking the prebiotic, I soon know if I’ve missed a couple of doses as my body starts feel more sluggish and bloated.
- Peppermint tea – I’ve always struggled to drink water, and since giving up milk ‘normal’ tea just isn’t the same, not to mention that caffeine can exacerbate symptoms in some people. I keep a box of peppermint tea in both my workplaces, my home, my Gran’s house, and I’ve been known to buy the individually wrapped teabags, just to carry in my handbag. It’s the first thing I reach for when I’ve got stomach pain or discomfort, which isn’t to say that I don’t drink a few cups a day regardless. Chatting to Dr Simon Smale at the Support Group training, he even mentioned that the latest research seems to show peppermint helps modulate pain perception!
- Loperamide – I always carry Imodium Instants in my bag or pocket, wherever I can get to them quickly. As I suffer from IBS-D having this medication on me makes it easier to leave the house in the event of a flare up. Sometimes just having it on me makes me feel less anxious, knowing it’s there in case I need it.
- Diet – I’ve long since adapted my diet to avoid my triggers. It varies from person to person, but for me the main things are: swapping milk for coconut milk (my porridge, hot chocolates, soups & curries all taste better incidentally), avoiding onion & garlic, and under no circumstances eating fish and chips from the chippy (alas!). That said there will always be times when my gut rebels for no apparent reason whatsoever. Whilst this is incredibly frustrating (and upsetting for someone who loves their food), I’ve learnt to strip things back in these situations. Chicken and white rice is my default ‘safe’ meal, and when I get bored of that there’s always salmon! Rather than despairing over the fact that food can start to feel like the enemy, I start afresh with a food diary to see if there are any patterns with the foods I’m eating and unpleasantness I’m experiencing.
- Blanket and a book – Last but not least. IBS is an incredibly individual condition, and the ways in which I manage it might not help everyone. However, I believe anyone can benefit from getting cosy and curling up with a good book. Whilst it might not be perceived as a ‘treatment’, the difference this makes on my mental health definitely merits its inclusion! If you’re struggling then by all means throw in some painkillers, a hot water bottle and peppermint tea, but more than anything be kind to yourself. I try not to make a habit of letting people down, but I know that in the midst of a flare up there are times when I can’t ‘push through’ and simply need to be honest with a friend and cancel plans. I can be a very sociable person, but I understand my need to avoid back-to-back plans, to schedule time in for myself, and to self care above all else.