Remember coming to the realization the symptoms you have could be IBS-related? Did you think if there was a medication that could cure them? Or that your doctor would know what YOU needed to feel better? Did you wonder what other approaches you could use, but were unsure which were valid or where to start? I once thought the same things and felt overwhelmed and hopeless. I was still in the dark and had yet to know the treatment options available for my IBS.
A diagnosis of IBS can be reached by use of the Rome III criteria to assess the severity of the symptoms people have and symptoms can vary greatly. Abdominal pain, bloating, distention, diarrhea, constipation or a combination of diarrhea and constipation, and uncomfortable changes in bowel movements are common. Non-gastrointestinal symptoms including anxiety and depression, are also commonly associated with IBS. It’s a challenging condition to treat and one that usually requires a different set of therapies for different people. Unfortunately, a “one size fits all” approach is nonexistent to treat IBS.
In 2010 I went to different gastroenterologists to help make a diagnosis of IBS. They used the Rome III criteria and also had me take Hydrogen Breath Tests to rule out SIBO. Another doctor did a colonoscopy. He said there was nothing to worry about, except for a little kink in my intestine which he smoothed out. Despite all the doctor visits, tests, procedures, and prescriptions, none of them had answers on how to get rid of my incessant symptoms of IBS.
I started to look into “complementary care” treatments on my own. They’re called “complementary” because they can complement conventional medical practices like anti-depressants, anti-diarrheals, anti-spasmodics, bulking agents or osmotic laxatives.
I researched books, studies and online articles to learn about complementary care-based approaches to help my IBS. The research I found was very interesting. I’ve come to understand from HealthyCare that there are 150+ published studies and expert consensus guidelines that support the use of complementary care to improve IBS symptoms. Leading medical institutions nationwide, such as Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic, are now using complementary care approaches alongside conventional care.
Here’s a brief overview of an evidence-based, multidisciplinary approach to treating IBS symptoms using complementary care:
The nutritional components include specific possible diets and supplements and an understanding of how they may help alleviate IBS symptoms. Some people feel better on a gluten free diet, others do not. Many feel better following a low-FODMAP diet. Supplements like enteric coated peppermint oil capsules or probiotics can help some people, but provide no relief for other people. Finding the right combination of nutritional or supplemental changes for YOU is critical, but challenging.
Therapies including mindfulness meditations, journaling, and other methods of working with life’s stresses, have all been shown to help symptoms of IBS. I personally gravitate towards art therapy, meditation and deep breathing to relax my gut and mind.
More than half of all people who suffer from IBS also have difficulties with anxiety or depression. Finding and using therapies to work with these co-morbidities is important to healing the “whole body”.
Exercise and Physical Movement
Aerobic exercise, even in limited amounts, core strengthening, and yoga has been shown to help people get relief from their IBS symptoms and enjoy a better quality of life. Sometimes just getting in 15 to 30 minutes of movement everyday or every few days can do wonders.
Like so many other factors in our lives, IBS does not exist by itself but alongside, all the important parts of our lives. Our relationships, how well we sleep, how we handle stress and our physical environment can all play a role in the severity of the symptoms we experience. Optimizing our social relationships, improving sleep, reducing stress and reducing environmental toxins can be instrumental in helping to improve IBS symptoms.
Everyone’s experience with IBS is different to some degree. You know best what symptoms are most troublesome, painful, or limiting. And you know best, the parts of your life that generate stress, or provide you with comfort and support.
Start by understanding your own IBS, what different factors make you feel better, or worse. Then, using a multi-disciplinary approach that includes nutrition and dietary changes, mind-body therapies, exercise practices, and environmental modifications, you can identify what works best for you and helps you achieve the greatest, lasting improvement in your IBS symptoms.
While all these suggestions should provide IBS sufferers with encouragement, I know there are real challenges that get in the way of following through on them. The traditional office-based model of healthcare can be expensive, inconvenient, and has not historically done a good job of supporting a person’s IBS self-management the 99.9% of the time in between office visits. And that’s when the real improvement takes place.
Next week I’ll talk about how the cost and convenience of healthcare is being improved through the use of “telehealth”. I think “telehealth”, also known as “digital health”, is the missing link in helping people with IBS feel better and achieve better health outcomes.
Thank you to Dr. Ray Howe for contributing to this post and to HealthyCare.me for sponsoring it.
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