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Gastroenterologists Swear By These Home Remedies for IBS Pain

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Here's How to Ease IBS Pain at HomeCatherine McQueen - Getty Images

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Having irritable bowel syndrome (also known as IBS) can be a regular reminder that some things in life are unpredictable. Unfortunately, that can include unexpected dashes to the bathroom and pain. If your condition is causing gas, bloating, and discomfort, it’s only natural to wonder how to relieve IBS pain instantly.

IBS is a complicated condition and effective pain relief for it can come in several forms. Because no two patients are alike, you may need to try several options before finding a consistent method that works for you.

While your doctor may recommend certain medications to help treat your condition, gastroenterologists say there are other things you can do to get relief at home. Try one or several of these pain-relieving options the next time IBS pain strikes.

Meet the experts: Babak Firoozi, M.D., a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA; Ellen Stein, M.D., a gastroenterologist and associate professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

What causes IBS pain?

IBS is a group of symptoms that happen together and can include things like pain in your abdomen along with changes in your bowel movements, according to the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Those bowel changes may include diarrhea, constipation, or a mix of both.

IBS is what’s known as a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, which means it’s related to problems with how your brain and your gut work together. This can cause your gut to be more sensitive and change how the muscles in your bowel contract, leading to bowel issues, bloating, and—again—pain.

“There are lots of reasons why someone with IBS will have pain, but a very common thing we see is that they have visceral hypersensitivity, which means that their intestines are super sensitive to normal stimuli,” says Babak Firoozi, M.D., a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. “They will feel something more acutely than others.”

It’s not entirely clear what causes IBS but the NIDDK says doctors have noted that people with IBS have some common issues, including:

  • Stressful or hard early life events

  • Certain mental health disorders like anxiety or depression

  • Bacterial infections in the digestive tract

  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth

  • Food intolerances or sensitivities

There may also be a genetic link with IBS, Dr. Firoozi says.

What does IBS pain feel like?

While pain is a common IBS symptom, it’s a little unique. “Typically people with IBS have more cramping pain, but some will have bloating and pressure as a sensation,” Dr. Firoozi says.

Some people also describe their IBS pain as spasms, says Ellen Stein, M.D., a gastroenterologist and associate professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

How to relieve IBS pain quickly

There are a few things you can do to get relief from IBS pain, and Dr. Firoozi says you can try several of these at once.

Apply heat to your belly

IBS can involve a lot of spasms and cramps in your belly, and using heat on your stomach can help relief them, Dr. Firoozi says. “IBS is linked to stress and heat is one way to calm your body and destress,” he says.

There are a few things you can do to use heat therapy, including placing a heating pad on your stomach, using a hot water bottle, and applying sports creams that create a warming sensation, Dr. Firoozi says. A warm bath can also be soothing, he says.

Sip warm tea or warm water

Warm tea or warm water can be soothing to your gut, similar to using heat therapy on the outside of your body. “This can be very helpful to some people,” Dr. Firoozi says.

The exact reason why this may work isn’t entirely known, but it could be the warmth itself or the calming feeling of sipping something warm, which can help ease stress, Dr. Firoozi says.

Have something peppermint- or ginger-flavored

Peppermint in particular has a reputation for calming the muscles of the stomach, as well as allowing them to relax enough for gas to pass, Mount Sinai says. But ginger also has a reputation for settling stomachs.

“A cup of peppermint tea or ginger tea can help calm the gut,” Dr. Stein says. You can also suck on peppermint or ginger-flavored lozenges.

Eat light and healthy foods

Every IBS patient’s triggers are different, but the disease is centered around the gut. With that, doctors say it’s important to focus on having light foods when you’re going through a flare.

Dr. Firoozi suggests focusing on foods that are low in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (aka FODMAPS), which are short-chain carbohydrates that the small intestine has trouble absorbing. Low FODMAP foods include things like eggs, almond milk, rice, quinoa, oats, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and strawberries. If your flare is particularly bad, he recommends reaching for gentle foods like broths and lean protein. While you’re at it, take a pass on heavy foods, as well as dairy. “Dairy is the one food group that tends to exacerbate the majority of people with IBS,” Dr. Firoozi says.

Try yoga and meditation

This treatment stems from the link between IBS and stress which, unfortunately, can be a vicious cycle. That’s why doing calming exercises like yoga and meditation may help your pain. “Studies show that mindfulness meditation in particular is very helpful,” Dr. Firoozi says.

Listen to hypnotherapy

In case you’re not familiar with it, hypnotherapy involves reaching a heightened state of concentration and focused attention. People usually achieve it with the help of a trained hypnotherapist, although you can listen to hypnosis recordings, too. There are several studies that link hypnotherapy with lowered IBS symptoms. “Overall, studies find that hypnosis is very helpful for IBS,” Dr. Firoozi says. “It can help you to relax and not aggravate your symptoms.”

Take OTC medication

You have a few options when it comes to OTC medication. If your pain is really bothering you, Dr. Firoozi recommends taking acetaminophen for relief. “Typically, this will relax and relieve the spasms,” he says. And, if your IBS pain is accompanied by diarrhea, Dr. Stein says taking loperamide can help slow the gut down and ease your pain.

However, if you find that your need to reach for OTC medications a lot, it’s time to check in with your healthcare provider about other options.

When to see a doctor about your IBS pain

While pain is a common symptom of IBS, that doesn’t mean you should just have to live with it. “If the pain is something that you feel like you’re not able to control well, and if it’s affecting your daily life, it’s something you should see a doctor about,” Dr. Firoozi says. Your healthcare provider can help give you personalized advice to better manage your symptoms and also dig a little deeper into what could be behind your pain. “It could be more than IBS,” Dr. Firoozi says. “But you won’t know until you get checked out.”

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