Sometimes your IBS can lull you into a false sense of security. Maybe you’ve made a few changes and your symptoms have died down. So you breathe a tentative sigh of relief and cross your fingers that this change is permanent.
And if you’ve been addressing the root cause of your IBS with your practitioner, it’s entirely possible that your symptoms are fading away, never to be heard from again…
But, sometimes they come roaring back — especially if you are just working on a temporary fix. And like so many things in life, your IBS symptoms can have horrible timing. That’s why I recommend you have some emergency measures available to deal with those IBS symptoms that show up unexpectedly at the worst possible time.
No, there is no magic, instantaneous cure. But there are things you can do to calm your IBS symptoms when you’re having one of those days. So let’s dig in and explore some of these strategies — and talk about why they work.
Applying heat to the abdomen can help reduce IBS abdominal pain and cramping. There’s just something magically soothing about heat. Well, unless you’re talking about the Arizona summers. Then not so soothing.
But for IBS symptoms, applying some heat to your abdomen can help. Heat therapy works by increasing blood flow to the abdomen, which can help reduce inflammation and relax the muscles in the gut.
Yes, these still exist. They’re old school. But they’re also practical, fairly inexpensive, and easy to work with. Fill a hot water bottle with warm water and place it on your abdomen for 15-20 minutes at a time when your IBS symptoms are flaring up.
Depending on which symptoms you’re dealing with, stripping down and getting in the tub may not be appealing. But a good soak in a warm bath for 15-20 minutes to help relax your entire body, including the muscles in the gut. And this can be great for pain reduction.
This is sort of the modern version of the hot water bottle. Just make sure your heating pad has an auto off function in case you fall asleep. Use a heating pad on your abdomen for 15-20 minutes at a time to help reduce pain and cramping.
Peppermint oil is one of my favorite ways to reduce IBS symptoms — particularly spasms, cramping, and bloating. Not unlike heat, peppermint oil works by relaxing the muscles in the gut and reducing inflammation.
IBgard is my favorite peppermint oil supplement. It’s available over-the-counter at many stores including CVS, Walgreens, WalMart, and Target.
This is a good product to have on hand if you’re accidentally exposed to a problematic food and need some quick relief. The peppermint oil in IBgard is enteric-coated so it’s released in the small intestine where it’s needed. Peppermint oil that is not enteric-coated is less effective and can actually cause heartburn or nausea — the last thing you want when you’re having an IBS flare.
IBgard isn’t perfect. I don’t love that it contains polysorbate 80 (a preservative) and artificial coloring (FD&C Yellow#5, and FD&C Green #3). If you are sensitive to these ingredients, IBgard may not be the best choice for you. But for patients without these sensitivities, keeping this supplement on hand to treat occasional symptoms can be beneficial.
You can buy peppermint tea in tea bags, or you can make your own by steeping peppermint leaves in hot water for 5-10 minutes. There is something calming about holding a warm cup in your hands. If your IBS symptoms have flared up because of stress, the experience of drinking a hot cup of tea can help. Plus you also get the aforementioned benefits of peppermint oil.
IBS and stress often go hand-in-hand. If your symptom flare-up is tied to stress — either ongoing or acute — doing something to calm your nervous system, slow down your brain, and relax your body can make a big difference.
Meditation doesn’t have to be a big deal. Some people find the idea intimidating, imagining that they need to sit in an ashram in the lotus pose keeping their mind clear for hours. Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated — or hard.
If you’re intimidated by the idea of meditating, start with something short and simple. A mindful body scan can get you present in the moment, slow your breathing, and calm your mind. Just close your eyes and think about each part of your body from your head to your toes. Notice any sensations you’re feeling. You may notice tension in your neck. You can try to relax it if you’d like. But it’s also okay just to notice it’s there. You may notice more neutral sensations like tingling or warmth as well. The point is just to notice.
Even a 3-minute body scan can calm things down. Try not to focus only on your IBS discomfort. Notice the other things going on in your body. And if a body scan isn’t your thing, just closing your eyes and taking some deep breaths is a form of meditation as well. Again, keep it simple.
And if you want some guidance there are lots of videos on YouTube. Or you can download an app like Calm or Headspace.
Finding immediate relief from IBS symptoms can be challenging. Your best bet is to address what’s going on with your digestion from the source so you can stop attacks from happening. This takes some detective work though. Every case of IBS is different and there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
But that’s where I come in. My superpower as a dietitian is figuring out the root cause of digestive issues like IBS. Then once we know what’s going on, I’ll work with you to develop a plan to get on top of your IBS symptoms in a way that works with your life. The tips above can help you find immediate relief when you need it. But wouldn’t you rather just deal with the root cause of the problem once and for all?
If you’re ready to use a dietary approach to address the root cause of your IBS, then click the button below.