Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects up to 55 million Americans (mostly women) and can be physically debilitating, causing sudden cramping, abdominal pain, bloating gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Although there's no cure for the disorder, there are effective treatments available.  For example, try keeping a journal detailing when you experienced stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, what you were doing when your symptoms started, and what type of foods and medications you consumed before you became symptomatic. This will help you and your doctor determine potential triggers of your IBS, so you can then make lifestyle and dietary modifications to ward off problems. Learning as much as you can about your disorder is the first step in taking back control of your life.

Plan Ahead

While living with IBS can be challenging, it doesn't have to prevent you from enjoying an active lifestyle. It may just take some extra preparation. For example, if you're planning on attending a special event, such as a wedding, concert, lecture or movie, finding out where the bathrooms are and sitting at the back of the venue or at the end of the aisle row will help you make a quick exit if you need to. Here are more tips to consider:

  • Eating out. If certain foods make your symptoms worse, look for items on the menu that are more agreeable. Avoid some common culprits such as alcohol, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, sugar-free sweeteners, and dairy products. And stay away from gas-inducing foods like beans, cabbage and broccoli.
  • Work. Don't be afraid to tell your boss or coworkers about your condition, and let them know that it's a chronic illness that can be managed effectively and won't hinder your job performance. To avoid worry during long meetings, be sure to sit close to the office door in case you need to excuse yourself and leave quickly.
  • Travel. If you have to be away from home, driving rather than flying can give you more options to find relief when symptoms arise since you can stop for breaks when you need to.  If you have to fly, however, don't worry. Taking antispasmodic medication, bringing extra toilet paper, and having a change of clothing handy will ease your concern.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise helps relieve depression and reduce stress, which can make IBS symptoms worse, and stimulates normal contractions of the intestines. If you're planning on going running or biking, locating bathrooms along your route ahead of time will ease your mind if symptoms erupt.