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Tips for preventing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Prevention is the only cure when it comes to irritable bowel syndrome.

Written by Dr Anitha Anchan |Updated : January 14, 2016 10:53 AM IST

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is not a disease. It is a group of symptoms caused by changes in the functions of your intestines, without any structural problems. The common symptoms of IBS include stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation and bloating and gas. Living with IBS can get tough as the symptoms may worsen over time and lead to other conditions like hemorrhoids.

IBS can be prevented in two ways either avoid the risk factors or the triggers to prevent symptoms of IBS.

Preventive measures

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The exact cause of IBS is not known, so there isn t much you can do to avoid it. Risk factors like age, sex and genetics are beyond one s control. But you can avoid some factors like stress, psychiatric disorders, stomach infection, fibromyalgia and alcohol consumption that put you at a risk of IBS. (Read: 6 diet tips to beat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS))

  • Practice healthy living, avoid stress. And if you can t, then find ways to manage it. Relaxation exercises and stress-management techniques can help improve focus and reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Avoiding eating raw, undercooked and unhygienic food. Cooking foods thoroughly, washing hands well before eating and drinking clean water can help keep stomach infections at bay and reduce your chances of getting IBS.
  • IBS has been linked to alterations in the microbial population present in the intestine. Most people develop IBS after a stomach infection. If you have recently suffered from a stomach infection, then the balance of healthy microbes present in the intestine may be disrupted. Therefore, probiotics like fermented milk products, yogurt or even probiotic supplements may help prevent you from developing IBS.
  • If you suffer from fibromyalgia, you are more likely to get IBS. You can avoid this likelihood by trying to minimise the risk by eating antioxidants-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, avoiding stressful situations, etc. Certain medications, including tramadol and antidepressant drugs, might reduce the risks for IBS following fibromyalgia [1].
  • The ill-effects of alcohol on health are well known. Heavy alcohol drinkers have a higher risk of IBS [2]. So, limit your alcohol intake. It will help save your liver and sex life too!

Preventing the symptoms of IBS

Some physical as well as mental health problems can trigger IBS. The best way to prevent symptoms of IBS is avoiding the triggers. Diet and lifestyle modifications can go a long way in preventing the symptoms of IBS. The best way to keep the symptoms away is to avoid complex carbohydrates and pulses, smoking and alcohol.

  • The fiber in your diet can help or worsen your condition depending on whether you have constipation or diarrhea. According to the National Institute of Health and Excellence (NICE) clinical guidelines, fiber intake for people with IBS should be adjusted according to the symptoms and its effects [3]. A diet containing low fiber can improve your symptoms of IBS significantly if a high carbohydrate diet increases your chances of bloating and flatulence. Eat more fruits, fiber-rich food and green leafy vegetables. If you have constipation, increase your fiber intake. But make sure to do it gradually as a sudden drastic change in dietary habits may make symptoms worse. (Read: Tips to manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome)
  • It is a good idea to keep a food diary that can help you correlate the food you eat and your IBS symptoms. The most common trigger of IBS is food sensitivity. Therefore, in a majority of the cases, a change in eating habits may be suggested. Giving up milk and dairy products may help some people. Consider having probiotics as they have been shown to provide relief. (Read: 6 triggers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) you should avoid)
  • Avoid eating spicy foods and foods rich in fats. Spicy foods are likely to irritate sensitive bowel and worsen the symptom of diarrhea. Fatty foods not only worsen IBS symptoms but are also bad for your overall health.
  • Avoid other foods and drinks like coffee, tea, etc. that you think might trigger the symptoms. As per NICE guidelines, a person suffering from IBS should restrict caffeinated beverages to three cups per day.
  • Do not overeat. Control portion size. Divide your meals into smaller portions over the day. Do not eat at midnights.
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise regularly and sleep adequately. Avoid smoking and limit your alcohol intake.

References:

1. Yang T-Y, Chen C-S, Lin C-L, Lin W-M, Kuo C-N, Kao C-H. Risk for Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Fibromyalgia Patients: A National Database Study. Zapata. E, ed. Medicine. 2015;94(10):e616. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000000616.

2. Halder SL and colleagues. Influence of alcohol consumption on IBS and dyspepsia.

3. Irritable bowel syndrome and diet. National Health Service (NHS)- National Institute of Health and Excellence (NICE)

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