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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) health centre

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Coping with IBS

There is no cure for IBS, but there are treatments and lifestyle changes that may help someone cope with irritable bowel syndrome.

Having IBS presents some daily challenges, including pain, discomfort and inconvenience.

Here are some tips for coping with IBS.

Know your triggers and symptoms

Keeping track of your symptoms is a helpful tool. In a symptom journal, record when and where you experienced any stomach pain, discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea, or constipation. Also write down what you were doing, how you were feeling, and what type of food or medications you consumed before and when symptoms showed up. All this information may help you and your doctor determine what triggers your IBS. Then you can take reasonable steps such as dietary modification to prevent problems and take control of your life.

Talk openly about IBS

Around three out of four people with IBS will experience depression at some stage and half will have generalised anxiety disorder.

You don't have to be alone in dealing with IBS. Seek out support from trusted family and friends. It will help loved ones to know that IBS is a real illness, which could impact not only your life, but theirs as well.

At work, talking to a trusted supervisor or colleague may make it easier for you to deal with the disorder. Let them know that you have a long-term medical condition, and that when symptoms flare up, you have no control over it.

This might mean bringing in educational materials about the disorder. At the same time, tell them that you've got a plan to deal with the syndrome (such as taking medication or going to the toilet a few times), and that, despite it all, you'll remain a dedicated employee. If you have a problem with your union or boss, it might help to get a report from your doctor, explaining the health condition and what might occur with symptoms.

You may well find that most people are more supportive if you're open with them.

Get support

There are other sources of support if you don't feel comfortable talking with people you know. There are doctors, nurses, therapists, and dietitians who specialise in IBS and who can give valuable feedback. Ask your doctor if he or she knows of any IBS support groups.

Prepare for situations

Coping with IBS also takes some preparation and courage. You don't have to be afraid to go out.

Some people may feel more comfortable if they do a little research before going to an event, such as knowing where the public toilet is.

If you're going to a wedding, concert, or film, sit at the back or end of the row for easy access to the toilets. If you go to a dinner, find out what's on the menu so that you can eat beforehand should the food be something that would be disagreeable.

Accepting embarrassing situations may also help. Be honest and say, 'Sorry, but I have a medical condition'. If you don't tell people, they may imagine reasons for your behaviour that are stranger than IBS.

And remember, it's human to have embarrassments. Situations may not be as bad as you think. You may find other people have not noticed your trips to the toilet or that they're dealing with their own awkward issues.

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