The First 5 Things to Do if You Have IBS Symptoms

Hand reaches up through the seat from out of a toilet in a domestic bathroom.

IBS can make you feel like your life is going down the toilet.

So you’re miserable with bowel troubles and pain, and you want to know what to do about it. Well there ARE things you can do! You just have to DO them.



Here are first 5 things I think you should do if you have IBS symptoms, and you are just starting out on this journey.

Some of these may seem like common sense, but I admit I didn’t do some of them until I absolutely had to.

 

1. See your doctor.

This first one is extremely important!

You don’t want to try diagnosing yourself with IBS, only to find out you have a treatable and/or a serious condition.

Now I know it’s embarrassing to talk about toilet habits. But remember, your doctor has heard and seen it all.  You need to know that bowel troubles are nothing new to him or her.

Doctor in a white lab coat with a "no self diagnosis" sign.

Sometimes IBS type symptoms can be the sign of a health problem or even a medical emergency. BE CAREFUL!

If your doctor can’t find anything wrong, see if you can get a referral to a gastroenterologist. That’s a doctor that specializes in the digestive system.

If your doctor can’t find anything wrong, but won’t give you a referral, I think it’s time to find a new doctor.

2. See an allergist.

I know several people that have all kinds of problems with their bowels if they eat certain foods.  Each of these people later found out that they had an undiagnosed food allergy.

Symptoms of a food allergy may include exzema or other skin problems, digestive problems (like IBS) and a host of other symptoms.

3. See a qualified dietician or nutritionist.

If steps one and two haven’t helped, I think you should consider finding foods that may be triggering your IBS symptoms.

Many people don’t have an allergy, but have a food sensitivity or food intolerance.

A nutritionist or dietitian tries to prevent and treat your illnesses by recommending dietary changes.

This kind of professional can help you find foods that are causing you problems. One way he or she might do that is with a food elimination diet. That’s where you…

4. Keep a food diary and look for problem foods.

Food Diary to detect food intolerance.

Keep a food diary to detect problem foods. You may find foods that trigger your IBS symptoms.
© Can Stock Photo

I admit this is something I was NOT good at. But I found out that I have a wheat sensitivity, lactose intolerance, and problems with soy.

When you write down what you eat each day, you’ll be surprised at how much you eat. Don’t let that worry or bother you, just keep writing it down.

If you have an IBS flare up, then look back to what you’ve eaten over the past 2 or 3 days (it can take that long for a food to give you trouble). If you keep the diary for a while, you may find a pattern.

Again, a nutritionist or dietician can be a huge help with this.

5. Avoid foods that you find trigger your IBS.

Of course you’ll need to avoid the foods you find give you problems, but certain types of food almost always cause problem. Here’s MY list:

  • High fat foods.
  • High fiber foods if you are not used to them.
  • Any food likely to cause gas (like beans for most people).
  • Soda, which puts carbonation into your bowels, where you don’t need extra gas.
  • Chewing gum, which stimulates your digestion, and may contain sorbitol (a laxative sweetener).
  • Alcohol, which irritates the bowels in many people, and may mess with neurotransmitters.

Well there you have it…

That’s my take on the first 5 things you should do if you have IBS symptoms.  Of course, I’m no doctor; just a guy that’s been through the IBS routine.  ;)

Do  YOU have ideas on things a newcomer to IBS world should do??? 
Help out with your ideas in the comments section!

26 Comments

  1. Reply

    Apparently FMT fecal microbiota transplant can “cure” IBS. Yes I sad cure knowing that before it was thought to live with this condition for life.

    This was the video that opened my mind: http://www.ted.com/talks/rob_knight_how_our_microbes_make_us_who_we_are

  2. Reply

    I have found your site to be very helpful, but best of all humorous as well. I have added it to my favorites and am definitely going to take some of your advice. I have spent the first two days of my spring break (I am a teacher) with major bloating and pain…better now. But I am going to go to my doctor, eliminate some foods (soy milk for sure), and try the suggested exercise. Thanks so much!!

    Sharon Carlise

  3. Reply

    You know what’s odd…is I keep seeing that alcohol is really bad for IBS…and when I tried wine that’s true. Horrible effect. But i’ve had Belgian beer a few times and it actually makes my stomach feel better than it ever has. So weird!!

  4. Reply

    Last night I ate cheese melted on whole grain crackers and drank wine . Am already on meds for anxiety and IBS. Needless to say , never doing that combo again! Wine always bothers me, and dairy. If you eat the wrong foods no meds will stop the reaction, not for me, anyways.

  5. Reply

    Hi Shawn

    I’ve just stumbled across your site and have found it sooo helpful! I was diagnosed with IBS around 8 months ago but I am still a little unsure on whether it is and not an allergy or intollerance or something else entirley as I was kind of fobbed f a bit, like they gave me an answer to my problems to make me go away.
    Since then I have cut out things like drinking tea/coffee, milk and have changed my diet so I now eat a hell of a lot more fruit and veg as I wasn’t very healthy before and I now do yoga twice a week and swim 2 or 3 times a week BUT I haven’t noticed any difference to my health and I have always struggled to find a solid do’s and don’t or anywhere that has enough information until I found your site!!
    I have been toying with the idea of going wheat free to try and eliminate some issues and after reading through some of your site, I have booked a doctors appointment to once and for all get some proper help to ease my pain. Unfortunately it is the same doctor who diagnosed me but I am interested to see what they offer me next (they offered me anti depressants before which I found a bit odd as I’m not depressed), I am also going to be asking for a nutritionist and I will be going to see a herbal medicine doctor as well.

    Thank you so much for putting together all of this information, I have already bookmarked your site and will be referring back to it a lot!

    Fingers crossed

    Hydi
    x

  6. Reply

    I too would like to thank you for accumulating this information for us and allowing for the collective to share their experiences here. Approximately one year ago this Thanksgiving I began to struggle with what was later diagnosed as IBS. It has been a major impact on my lifestyle. I am very active, travel frequently for work and require a rather high calorie diet. For over 6 months I pack a cooler around with me to avoid eating out and aggravating symptoms. During this time I was going through numerous test with an internalist to rule out other possibilities, which set my (and my family’s) mind at ease but only ended with a default diagnosis of IBS. So I have been trying to manage by packing my own food with me everywhere I go, like I mentioned before. Part of my meal routine included Mojo Bars. Recently, Appox. 2 weeks ago we ran out of Mojo bars and didn’t replenish our supply. The week following my condition steadily improved and the only thing that had been eliminated was the Mojo Bars. So we did some research and found that it may be the soy in the bars that was affecting me. So for the last week I have been avoiding any potential Soy products, which is insane it is in everything, and I have been steadily feeling better. In fact I have noticed feeling better all-around than I can ever remember. I am convinced it is Soy intolerance and came across this page while Googling it. Thanks again for all the info, I will be referring to this site frequently.

    • Reply

      WOW!!! Thanks Dante for that information. As far as compiling the information, you are WELCOME. Knowing that someone was helped somewhere makes it all worthwhile. It’s surprising how things like soy, wheat, MSG, or fructose end up in everything under hidden names.

      Now you have contributed. Someone may read your story, and find their own solution!

      Good luck with your quest.

      Shawn

  7. Reply

    Ps. I will be adding this site to my favorites also. Thank You!

  8. Reply

    Shawn, I came across your website by Google search. Still looking through it and I have been finding it quite educational. I think it is a great way to inform others on this “disease” and thank you for your hard work and time. I am 38 now and was diagnosed with IBS when i was 13. I’m still learning new things and I’ve also been tested for Celiac but was negative, wheat and dairy plus grease, fatty foods, acidic stuff …..ie tomatoes & citrus types and anything apple I cannot eat.

    • Reply

      Thanks for the kind words Christie. THat’s 20 years. That’s a long time. Your issues with foods and mine sound almost identical. I CAN eat apples though, thankfully. Thanks for broadening the knowledge here!

      Shawn

  9. Reply

    Hi Shawn… I have been doing alot of online research recently on the subject of IBS and wheat sensitivity. I am a 41 yr old female who has never had any digestive issues before now so I know something out of the ordinary is going on as I haven’t been feeling my usual self for about a week and a half. I have noticed that alcohol and especially beer makes my symptoms worse. I have decided to avoid alcohol for a while and reduce wheat intake and see how things go. I just wanted to say I really enjoy your posts. Your advice is easy to understand and follow and some of your comments make me chuckle out loud. Keep up the good work! :D Ps. I hope you don’t mind, I’m adding your link to my favorites ;)

    • Reply

      Thanks so much Angie! That’s what I try to do. I’m flattered to be in you favorites list. That reminds me, I need to make some more dawgawn pages!

      I hope you find some relief. – Shawn

  10. Reply

    No problem Shawn. According to my doctor, the charcoal tablets simply speed the passage through the digestive tract. It’s not a magic bullet, but it can take the edge of the symptoms of bloating, which is the worst part of my IBS problems. Charcoal is inert, so it’s safe to take and has been used since the time of the ancient Greeks for digestive problems. Look forward to reading any other info you can come up with. All the best. Andy

  11. Reply

    Great site Shawn, learned a lot of new things today.

    I’ve had some sort of post infectious IBS for over 5 years now. Suddenly swell like a balloon, which can last for weeks.
    Been over 50 times to see a hospital gastro specialist and could open my own pharmacy with all the stuff prescribed, but nothing has worked.

    The only thing that helps even a little seems to be charcoal tablets. Ten or twelve of these things taken straight after the onset seems to stop it going full-blown, if you excuse the phrase.

    Will definitely visit again and will try some of the helpful suggestions here.

    Thanks for a very useful site! All the best. Andy

    • Reply

      Thanks for the kind words, Andy. I’ve never heard of charcoal tablets helping with bloating, or IBS in general. Thanks for sharing some new information! I’ll have to look into it, and maybe write a page about it. I’m glad you found something that helps, at least somewhat. All the best. Shawn

  12. Reply

    i thought i had a wheat sensitivity or a gluten intolerance,but my blood test came back saying no trace of ether, i experiance diariah when i have any wheat product.?

    • Reply

      Hi Allen,

      This is exactly how it worked out for me. I had a the blood test looking for the antibodies came back negative. I had been limiting gluten however which can reduce the accuracy of the test. Either way, if I eat wheat, I get sick.

      Shawn

  13. Reply

    Shawn, in the end I think it was a good call to leave up Joey’s comment. It gave you a chance to go ahead and prove the point. Yes, you DID in fact do REAL research and cite medical facts. You also provided links to find documentation on studies. I look forward to reading your new pages as they are posted and your other readers have posted positive feedback as well. Thanks again!

  14. Reply

    To those that come later, I apologize for this bit of negativity. We try to keep it positive around here, and I could delete the comment, but that’s not my way.

    Besides, someone else may benefit by the contrasting viewpoints.

    Shawn

  15. Reply

    Joey, I believe You are the one who is misinformed here. Did you actually click on the “Soda” link and read more about what was said on the subject of soda, sugar contained in the soda and trapped gas. I have read a few studies on this. Shawn stated on his “Soda” page that he had read a study on the subject. Here is a link to one of these studies.
    http://ibdcrohns.about.com/cs/faqsibs/a/ibsfaq_4.htm
    It says and I quote “Carbonated beverages (such as soda pop or sparkling water) can also lead to bloating and intestinal gas (as well as belching”. This same article lists alcohol as a “trigger” food. Beer alone contains fermented sugar, malted cereal grain, malted barley and malted wheat. Beer alone can set of an IBS attack if you have a wheat sensitivity or a yeast sensitivity. Wine contains sulfates that trigger bowel troubles. If you clicked on the “Alcohol” link and read that page, you would have noticed his disclaimer on neurotransmitters. But YES Alcohol IS a trigger for IBS.

    Thanks Shawn for all your hard work. I will continue to look for new pages!

    • Reply

      Thanks for jumping to my defense, Anne. :). A well written retort.

      You’re quite welcome to the work, and I hope you’ll stop by, and comment often.

      All the best,

      Shawn

  16. Reply

    “Soda, which puts carbonation into your bowels, where you don’t need extra gas.”
    Seriously? Your stomach digests the soda (along with everything else) into chyme which travels into the intestines… the carbonation is far gone from digestion let alone natural escape (burping after soda anyone?) while sitting in your stomach digesting for 1-3 hours.

    “alcohol may mess with neurotransmitters”
    Yes, but not directly in the intestine. The part of alcohol that makes you drunk is digested by your liver and is passed through the blood into the brain where GABA reuptake is inhibited– the ‘depressant’ effect. Simply traveling through your intestine where serotonin receptors may be will not have any effect on them. Serotonin is indirectly affected through a series of complex reactions and BRAIN levels are temporarily increased– the body attempting to compensate by lowering production the next few days after drinking is what can make you feel ‘down.’ Serotonin receptors in the gut signal enzyme production to aide food digestion.
    Please do real research and cite real medical facts when giving health advice on a serious and common syndrome…

    • Reply

      Well Joey, I guess you’ve kicked me in the shins pretty good. I’ve been writing this site since 2007, and yours is the first negative comment. Caught me by surprise it did. I’ll even admit to having hurt feelings.

      It takes hours for me to put up a page because I do check references. Sometimes I cite them, sometimes I don’t. Most people don’t want the jargon or they’d be at Pubmed, not here.

      You may want to brush up on some current IBS thinking:

      For carbonation introducing gas in the intestines, try:
      https://www.gis.md/fact-intestinal.html (read to the bottom).
      http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs/
      http://patients.gi.org/topics/digestive-health-tips/
      They say things like:
      Abdominal bloating and discomfort may be due to intestinal sensitivity or symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. To relieve symptoms, avoid:
      Broccoli
      Baked beans
      Cabbage
      Carbonated drinks.
      etc…

      As far as your second point, I never said there was proven science that alcohol affected the serotonin in the human bowel.

      However, doctors frequently use drugs that affect serotonin to treat IBS.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1192440/

      Your own comment made a clear case that alcohol affects neurotransmitters in the brain. I think you misunderstood something.
      So alcohol “MAY mess with neurotransmitters.”

      I hope you find a site that suits you better than this one did.
      Hope and health to you.
      Shawn

      • Reply

        I’ve been dealing with the effects of ibs over the last few months but have only recently addressed the issue. My doctor prescribed dicyclomene. I’ve been taking a probiotic but obviously I need to address what triggers it and it does seem the more beer I drink or if I use pepper jack cheese on my burger we know the end result. I’m going to need to do my homework. Go thoughts though. It’s appreciated.

        • Reply

          Hi. This is an old thread but I wanted to share my experience. for me the big triggers are actually beer, high fiber foods and wine. I take a strong probiotic every other day and also take Prilosec every other day. I find this works and I have no symptoms. The beer and the fiber thing is crazy how sensitive I am. I slipped up the other week and had one beer on a hot day. Next few days I paid for it. Refined alcohol is no issue though. So looks like only whiskey and tequila for me. Ha! Good luck to you. Took me literally 10 years to finally figure this out.

    • Reply

      I agree with Joey, alcohol does not affect my IBS at all and an occasional real coca-cola actually helps my symptoms. What is lethal for me are MILK and COFFEE which I love, snifff. I can eat high quality ice-cream if eaten 4 hours after a meal and I eat nothing else after for seveal hours.. IBS is a pain and I never had any problem til I hit 50.

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