Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects up to 20 percent of the general population, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). And for those living with it, the condition can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and even embarrassing. If you think you may have IBS, it's important to consult with a doctor so that you can get an accurate diagnosis and treatment suggestions. In addition, the following self-care tips may help ease your symptoms and prevent flare-ups.

1. Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water every day helps to keep your digestive system working efficiently by preventing constipation and diarrhea. The NDDIC recommends aiming for six to eight glasses a day.

2. Up your soluble fiber intake. Soluble fiber can help to prevent spasms and reduce IBS symptoms by keeping the colon distended. The fiber also absorbs water, which helps prevent stools from becoming too hard and consequently difficult to pass. Good sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, most types of beans, and citrus fruit.

3. Avoid dairy products.
The lactose contained in dairy products causes many problems for digestion and often irritates IBS symptoms. Try alternative products, such as soy milk and cheeses, and if you must eat dairy, take lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose) in pill form before consuming it. Lactase pills can be purchases over the counter.

4. Eat smaller meals. Although most people will feel bloated after eating a large meal, the feeling is usually more intense for those with IBS. Try consuming five smaller meals a day, instead of three large meals, to reduce symptoms.

5. Avoid using laxatives. Even if you think they may help, laxatives can potentially weaken your intestines and disrupt your body's natural digestive cycle, resulting in dependency.

6. Exercise regularly. Not only does regular exercise help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent disease; it also helps aid digestion and relieve constipation. Try going for a short 20-minute walk every day or doing activities like swimming or yoga.

7. Bust the bubbles.  Carbonated beverages, such as soda, can often result in increased intestinal gas and bloating, reports the National Women's Health Information Center. Avoid them when possible.

8. Practice stress reduction. Although it is a myth that IBS can actually be caused by stress, feelings of anxiety can aggravate symptoms. Try yoga, walking, or breathing techniques to help keep yourself calm.

9. Avoid coffee. Coffee is an infamous bowel irritant. The caffeine it contains speeds up every system in the body, including the colon, which can cause diarrhea.

10. Cut back on the fat. Not only can consuming too much fat cause weight gain and health problems; for people with IBS, it can also lead to uncomfortable, painful, and sometimes even more frequent bowel movements.