Hey friends, it’s another IBS Awareness Month post! Last time, I wrote a bit about my own experiences with irritable bowel syndrome and how it’s currently impacting my life, and today, I’m talking about the things I’ve found helpful. Over the last couple of months, I’ve really been researching ways in which I can help myself to ease my symptoms and generally get my shit together (for want of a better phrase), and these are the things that have had the biggest impact.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and while I have thoroughly researched this post (references are listed at the bottom of the page), much of this is based on my own experience with IBS so may not be the same for everyone. If you have any concerns about IBS symptoms or treatments, you should always contact your GP for advice. In addition, this post contains no affiliate links and any recommendations are based on my own opinion.
Further disclaimer: If you haven’t guessed it already, I’m talking about poo again. If that’s not your thing, feel free to check out some of my other blog posts – I talk about books and gin and stuff too.
Earlier this year, after one IBS flare up too many, I decided to start tracking my symptoms and what I was eating to see if I could spot a pattern. At first, I just wrote my meals and symptoms in a notebook, highlighting if I thought a particular food or event was a trigger. However, the lack of structure meant I couldn’t really see any patterns emerging – and even if they were, it wasn’t particularly obvious. I tried searching Pinterest for bullet journal set ups, but nothing really came up. After doing some research, I found the I Hate My Guts journal on Amazon and honestly, it was a game changer. It’s a four week journal where you log your meals, symptoms, exercise, bowel movements and sleep, and you can score your digestive discomfort out of 10 for each meal. There’s room for notes and snacks too, and at the end of each week, it encourages you to go back and look over particular foods or events that have triggered you, as well as recording what management techniques (if any) you found helpful. Of course, this sort of set up can easily be replicated in a bullet journal, but having everything there in front of me made it so much easier to know what exactly I should be recording, and it’s really helped me to identify my triggers. Namely – certain foods, stress and wine. If you need somewhere to start when it comes to tracking your diet and symptoms, I would definitely recommend this journal. I’ve since filled up this particular one, and have used the set-up of it to create my own in a bullet journal, plus, I can tweak it to make it a little more tailored to what I need.
Download an App
I recently discovered Plop – an app that you can download for free on iPhone and Android. For anyone who doesn’t have IBS, it may seem a little weird – essentially, it’s an app that tracks and analyses your bowel movements. You can track movements using the Bristol Stool Scale as well as recording the symptoms that come with it, and over time it’ll give you advice and insights into your habits and digestive health. I’ve recently discovered that there’s also a subscriber version that you can upgrade to, which allows you to track additional symptoms and also provides you with further insight. It’s incredibly handy for tracking flare ups and particularly useful if you’re planning on visiting your GP about your symptoms too. The subscriber version is only £2.59 a month, but I’d been using it for a good three months or so before I even discovered there’s an upgrade, so if you just want to track the basics of your symptoms, the free version should be more than enough!
Manage Your Stress
Through tracking my symptoms and flare ups, I’ve found that stress and anxiety are my biggest triggers. For me, IBS and anxiety go hand in hand. To the point where, if I get anxious about something, I’ll also get anxious about that anxiety causing an IBS attack. Guess what – it usually then happens. It’s a vicious, exhausting cycle. I’m not the only one either – in fact, IBS has been strongly linked with anxiety and depression. My point is though, that through identifying that stress and anxiety are my main triggers, I’ve realised I need to do more to manage them. I’ve started to acknowledge when I feel anxious about things, I’m attempting to do more exercise, and I’ve started to work on my mental health again by referring myself to the talking therapies service. Whether it makes a massive difference or not, we’ll need to wait and see, but for the time being, there’s lots to work on for sure.
I’m a big lover of Mebeverine for my IBS, which is an antispasmodic drug that you take 20-30 minutes before you eat. I’ve been on it on and off over the years, but through taking it recently I’ve seen the biggest difference. However, if medication isn’t something you want to be taking, there are quite a few natural remedies that can help with IBS symptoms:
- Peppermint – Peppermint is known for its soothing properties on the stomach. I usually go for peppermint tea, which you can buy from the supermarket (or make your own if you have mint leaves), or you can also buy peppermint oil supplements from health food shops. I’ve tried both and I personally found the supplements gave me indigestion, but the tea definitely helps when my stomach’s feeling a bit sensitive.
- Ginger – Ginger is also known for having a soothing effect on the stomach and is particularly useful for nausea. Again, you can buy ginger tea bags from supermarkets, or brew your own using root ginger.
- Probiotics – Thought to help restore the “friendly” bacteria in your gut, there’s evidence that probiotics can be useful when it comes to treating the symptoms of IBS, or preventing an upset stomach when you’re taking antibiotics. If you suffer from IBS, the NHS advise trying them for a month to see if they improve your symptoms.
Accept That Booze Doesn’t Help
If you’ve been with my blog for a while, you’ll know that it will pain me to write this. However, I am fully aware that booze exacerbates my IBS. Everyone is different of course, but alcohol has been found to irritate the lining of the gut, which can lead to things like abdominal pain and diarrhoea. We’ve all experienced the hangover poo, right? If you’re like me and can’t resist a
weekly nightly tipple, it appears that different types of alcohol may be better if you have IBS. You may be familiar with the low FODMAP diet, and you can actually use this when it comes to alcoholic beverages. Low FODMAP alcoholic drinks can include:
- Gin (YAAAAASS)
- Red or white wine (Although sugar content can be an issue for some)
- Beer (Although some may have an issue with gluten and carbonation)
In my case, this would explain why I don’t tend to flare if I’ve been drinking gin and tonics, but I do if I’ve been drinking wine (I tend to flare if I have too much sugar). You can also use the low FODMAP diet to choose mixers too – for example, I notice my symptoms worsen when I drink too much coke, so if I’m drinking vodka on a night out, I’ll steer clear of coke as a mixer. Healthline also recommends drinking plenty of water if you’re boozing, and to eat before you drink to help line your stomach and prevent irritation – of course, good advice for us all, whether you have IBS or not.
Don’t Be Afraid to Keep On at Your Doctor
This one is easier said than done, because I was reluctant to go to the doctors myself this time around. In 2019/2020, I had tests done because I was experiencing what most people would say were symptoms of IBS, but at the time, they were not normal for me, and in February 2020 I had a colonoscopy to rule out anything a bit more sinister. Thankfully, it all came back normal, meaning it was indeed IBS. Cut to February of this year, and I knew that I probably should make a doctors appointment, but I just kept thinking, what else could they do? I also felt guilty – at the moment the NHS has enough to be dealing with, they don’t need another person with severe health anxiety phoning them to tell them “I’VE GOT AN UPSET TUM TUM AGAIN HELP ME PWEASE.”
Eventually, being curled up on the sofa and feeling like crap got to me, so I made myself a phone appointment with the doctor, and was referred for blood tests and also to the mental health services to get some help for my anxiety. Admittedly, this was probably the easiest experience I’ve had with doctors so far, and I’m incredibly grateful for that, but prior to this, I hadn’t had some very good experiences – one GP in particular made me cry on multiple occasions.
My favourite one in particular was an incident in 2014 when I was unwell for nearly three weeks with an illness initially starting fatigue, a temperature, and severe aches and pains. Oh, and agonising stomach pains combined with diarrhoea every time I ate something. While the temperature and the aches and pains went after a week (at the time I put it down to heatstroke because I’d spent two whole days cooking in the sun with no breaks like an idiot), I was still getting the diarrhoea and the stomach pains on and off. I made a doctors appointment with – we’ll call him Dr Asshole (yes, I’m aware the name fits in well here) – where I explained my symptoms, and despite mentioning the temperature and so on, he put it down to IBS. I mentioned my concerns, telling him my Mum had IBD, to which he laughed and said “Well, it’s hardly going to be that, is it?” I DON’T KNOW HUN YOU’RE THE ONE WITH THE MEDICAL DEGREE.
Cut to a few days later when it was 10pm on a Friday night and I was in agony with stomach pains – by this point I was well accustomed to my usual anxiety stomach aches, and this was not one of them – so I called 111 (for anyone outside of the UK, this is the out of hours/non-emergency number for medical advice). I was told to “have a hot bath and take some paracetamol.”
The following Monday, Mama J got involved. I phoned the doctors again, and this time, she came in with me. Yes, I was 22. Yes, I needed my mummy to fight my battles for me. It’s fine. I passive aggressively write blog posts on it 7 years later, but she doesn’t take any shit, so out of the two of us, it’s clear who was going to get things done. Anyway, she got VERY sassy with Dr Asshole, who reluctantly ordered some blood tests and a stool sample. I got a phone call a few days later from Dr Asshole himself, who informed me that I had campylobacter – a form of food poisoning. NOW WHO’S LAUGHING? Okay, maybe not me, as I think in a way this is what started to spike what later became contamination OCD, but that’s another story. Anyway, despite having a pretty nasty case of food poisoning, I was feeling ridiculously smug that he had been proven wrong.
Apologies, I went off on a bit of a tangent there. My point is this: you know what’s normal for you, so even if a doctor brushes something off as one thing (in my case, food poisoning brushed off as IBS), and you still feel that something’s not right – keep going on at them. Yes, it probably still is IBS, but if it’s different to any symptoms you usually experience, get it checked out to put your mind at rest at the very least. Plus, it means that if there is anything else going on, you’re getting it checked sooner rather than later.
The other point to make is that, even if you think that your doctor has run all the tests and done everything they need to, that doesn’t mean you still have to suffer with unpleasant symptoms. There’s medications they can prescribe, and they can even repeat tests if needs be. Not only that, but if there’s something going on that could be triggering the symptoms – in my case, anxiety – they can point you in the right direction to either get it investigated further, or to help you manage or treat it.
Remember You’re Not Alone
Despite how common it is, IBS is still regarded as being disgusting and taboo. Yes, the symptoms are unpleasant and in many cases, pretty gross, but the fact there’s still so much stigma around the condition just adds to the humiliation for people who live with it, and it can also mean people are too embarrassed to speak to their doctor. The more we talk about it, the less embarrassing it is, and the more we can normalise it. IBS can be isolating if you keep it to yourself, and I know first hand the anxiety that comes with it can have a huge impact on your mental health. I’m lucky that with most of my friends, no topic is off limits (I’ve said before, the mark of any good friendship is being able to talk about poo), so if I do ever need to cancel plans because I’ve had a flare-up or whatever, I don’t end up making up some pithy excuse. I’m not saying you should have a conversation about it at the dinner table over your Sunday roast, but can we all just accept the fact that we all poo? It’s fine.
My heart goes out to you if you’re struggling with IBS, or any other digestive health condition. It sucks. In the weeks where I was really struggling, I came across a few sites and accounts that I’ve found to be really useful in normalising what I’ve gone through, the main one being My IBS Life, an Instagram account run by Christine, who posts hilarious memes about living with IBS and how goddamn awkward it can make things. Her memes are so relatable and they really make me laugh, so I’d strongly suggest giving her a follow if you need cheering up. She also hosts the My IBS Life Podcast which is brilliantly funny and relatable, so go check that out on all your podcast apps and such. It’s really helped me to normalise some of the weird symptoms and the general day-to-day shit (no pun intended) you deal with in having IBS.
Of course, as you’ve probably realised by now, I am more than happy to talk shit – literally and figuratively – so please feel free to share your stories with me in the comments!