Many people in the United States experience digestive troubles, specifically irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Common symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation or bouts of both. Most people can relieve symptoms on their own but in a few cases, the symptoms are severe.
Stomach pain should always be brought to the attention of your doctor, especially if recurring. Strong abdominal pain could be an indicator of a serious problem so needs to have medical attention. For less serious pains or a diagnosed condition of IBS, there are several remedies you can use yourself to ease painful symptoms.
Effective remedies to soothe your IBS
- Apply heat: Applying warm heat to your belly helps to soothe you mentally, as well as physically. A low-level and continuous heat helps to ease painful stomachs. There are a few different ways to apply heat to your stomach and your personal preference will determine which one will work best.
- Use a heating pad but be sure to protect your skin with a towel or cloth
- Use a hot water bottle, which is particularly good for overnight use.
- Apply sports creams; topical pain relievers provide warmth and fast pain relief.
- Drink tea: Similar to the soothing effects of a heating pad, a warm cup of tea provides a soothing sensation all over. There are a few types of tea known to help with digestive troubles. Chamomile tea is soothing but not ideal for those following a low-FODMAP diet. Anise tea and fennel tea are both great for constipation but be aware that fennel tea is also a high-FODMAP food. Peppermint tea has proven to be the most effective at providing stomach pain relief and is often the go-to tea.
- Make smart food choices: There are a number of foods that have been linked to worsening IBS symptoms. The list includes beans, cabbage, broccoli, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, soda, and dairy. A major cause of IBS is dairy. Many diagnoses are found in those who are lactose intolerant. You may want to avoid dairy altogether or find alternatives, making sure you still get adequate intake of calcium and protein. Foods that contain probiotics can be added to your daily diet to prevent digestive troubles and helping with IBS symptoms.
- Eat more carefully: Limiting your food choices to light, healthy options can settle an upset stomach and relieve IBS. Broth, lean protein like chicken and turkey, as well as steamed vegetables can improve your digestive function. Additionally, you want to avoid heavy or greasy meals, as well as high-FODMAP foods. An increase in fiber can be good and bad for IBS; it helps with constipation but can worsen bloating and cramping. High fiber foods like vegetables, beans and fruit are recommended for IBS when added gradually over a few weeks. Foods that contain psyllium (a type of fiber) have been found to help more with IBS than foods containing bran.
- Exercise: To relieve stress, exercise is a proven solution. It turns out that exercise also helps with the stress from pain. Stress causes our muscles to contract irregularly, which can lead to cramping and pain. Exercise helps to stimulate regular contractions, thereby relieving bowel discomfort. Remember that if you do not exercise regularly, you need to start slowly at first and ideally you want to reach a goal of working out for 30 minutes a day.
- Supplements: There are a few products available without prescriptions that can help to ease IBS pain. Most people like to carry supplements with them at all times, so they are ready if pain strikes. The two most popular supplements are peppermint oil and gas-relief products. Peppermint oil acts as an antispasmodic, reducing muscle spasms and cramping common in inflamed and irritated digestive tracts. Gas-relieving products are readily available from most stores and can help with trapped gas, should that be the cause of your pain.
- Relax: When we experience pain, we get tense and anxious. Anxiety only causes a heightened state of awareness, which in turn causes us to feel or notice more pain. Pain relief can be brought about by taking a few minutes to calm down and relax. Relaxation offers a way to break from the pain-anxiety cycle and turn off the heightened senses. The three most popular types of relaxation used for stomach pain are visualization, deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, and progressive and muscle relaxation.
- Use your imagination: Along the lines of relaxing, visual imagery can help to promote healing and can soothe your body. It may seem hard to believe but there is supporting evidence to show that visualization can lead to physical changes in your body and the reduction of pain. After relaxing your body, you can stimulate your imagination by calling to mind some pain relieving imagery.
- Imagine a soothing, healing balm has been poured into you and is making its way through your digestive tract calming the inflamed tissue
- Imagine a white healing light entering your body and swirling around your belly, healing your aggravated and inflamed digestive tract.
- Imagine that the pain itself is a hard ball of wax that slowly starts to melt as you envision a warmth spreading through your body.
- Hypnotherapy: Hypnosis has strong supporting research when it comes to easing pain, specifically IBS symptoms. The best results will come from ongoing therapy but for immediate relief, try listening to a gut-directed hypnotherapy tape. Apps can be downloaded to your device specific for IBS related treatment.
- Beware of laxatives: With constipation as a number one symptom of IBS, people often reach for the laxatives to get immediate relief. While these over-the-counter medications can improve the situation, you need to be aware that they can also make things worse. Laxatives such as milk of magnesia and polyethylene and anti-diarrheal medications like Imodium need to be taken carefully because overuse can worsen your situation.