The exact cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is not definitively known, and seems to vary between sufferers. Therefore, obtaining IBS relief depends upon the individual and is usually accomplished only after trying different possible remedies. Typically suggested solutions that have helped others include changing the diet, increasing dietary fiber, reducing stress levels, and taking medication.
Dietary changes may include either adding or removing certain foods from the diet. Keeping a diet journal of all food that is eaten and noting when IBS occurs can help determine if foods may be the cause of the IBS. Foods that are common offenders are dairy products, fatty or fried foods, salads, raw vegetables—particularly gas producers such as broccoli and cauliflower—as well as chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated drinks. These foods can be tested by eliminating one at a time to see if the IBS is lessened, rather than by eliminating all of them at once.
If the diet is low in fiber, adding foods that are high in fiber may help. Apples, kidney beans, and whole grain breads and cereals are some examples of high-fiber foods. Care should be taken to increase fiber slowly, however, so as not to make the IBS symptoms worse from a sudden rush of fiber going through the body. Another way to increase fiber is through psyllium supplements that are available over-the-counter and may be added to beverages.
The degree to which stress influences IBS is not officially known, but IBS sufferers do seem to experience more symptoms during times of increased anxiety. Some have reported IBS relief by taking steps to reduce their levels of stress. This can be done through lifestyle changes that reduce or eliminate the causes of excess stress, or by methods that relieve stress such as exercise or meditation.
Medications can bring IBS relief by treating the individual symptoms. Anti-diarrheal medications can help with flare-ups, while antacids can reduce the gas and bloating associated with IBS. Antidepressants have shown to relieve symptoms in people whose depression or nervousness may lead to their IBS. Antibiotics have had some success in bringing about IBS relief, but the reports are mixed. Drugs that have been developed solely to treat IBS may have serious side effects, and are recommended only when other remedies have failed to bring IBS relief.