More on irritable bowel syndrome

Originally Published: May 2, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 13, 2005
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Dear Alice,

I am a 28 year old female with a severe case of irritable bowel syndrome. I have been given several different medications to control the problem and have not yet come up with a working solution. Do you or anyone else have any suggestions on how to keep this awful problem under control?? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

—IBS Sufferer
Dear IBS Sufferer,

Alice is happy to hear that you have sought medical attention for treatment. She is sorry to hear that you have not been able to find relief with medications. Let's first review what IBS is. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common, chronic digestive problem that is a functional disorder of the smooth muscles of the large intestine. It can be caused by emotional stress, a diet low in fiber, and/or an intolerance to certain foods. The symptoms include abdominal pain and discomfort, constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and, sometimes, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

Here are some suggestions that might keep IBS under control:

  • Find ways to reduce or manage stress. Adjusting your schedule so it is not too hectic may be helpful. Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, may help reduce stress. (Read Meditation in Alice's General Health archives, and search for stress-related questions and answers in her Emotional Health and General Health archives, for helpful tips and more information.) Talking to a counselor may also help.
  • Regular exercise can help reduce tension and prevent constipation. Plus, it's a great way to keep the rest of your body in shape.
  • Add more fiber to your diet. Eating whole grains, bran, fresh fruits, and vegetables are great ways to boost fiber intake.
  • Eliminate foods that are hard to digest, such as cabbage, onions, milk, or any other items that could cause you particular distress.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine because they stimulate bowel muscles. Alcohol and spicy foods may also aggravate IBS.

Keeping a daily record of all foods and beverages you consume, along with any positive and/or negative symptoms experienced with these foods, may help a Registered Dietitian work out a suitable eating plan for you. If you are a Columbia University student, call x4-2284 for an appointment with the Health Services Nutritionist. Alice hopes these suggestions bring you some relief.

Alice