Understanding IBS Pain — Types, Causes, and Solutions
Chronic disease can be painful. In fact, the National Institutes of Health state that pain affects more people than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer – combined.
Chronic pain is the most common cause of long-term disability. It is also the most common reason that Americans seek medical treatment in the American healthcare system. In 2006, the National Center for Health Statistics estimated that 76.2 million Americans – one in every four – have suffered from pain that lasts longer than four hours.
So, this begs the question – if your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is causing you pain, how do you manage or cope with it?
Where Do You Feel IBS Pain?
The location of typical IBS pain varies from person-to-person, and as it turns out, “typical” IBS pain is anything but typical.
According to VeryWell, “One of the things that make IBS so challenging and worrisome is that its pain can present itself in a very changeable manner.” This means that even if someone with IBS has a “typical” pattern, it can change in severity, location, how it feels, and when it occurs.
The most common locations for IBS pain to occur are:
- Upper abdomen: when pain occurs in this location, it is often associated with bloating. It also tends to happen after a meal.
- Middle abdomen: this abdominal pain tends to cause a “cramping” sensation around the umbilicus (the belly button.)
- Lower abdomen: when pain occurs here, it is often relieved after passing a bowel movement.
Although these areas are “typical” locations, the pain can radiate into the back and the upper torso. This means that the pain can occur anywhere in the upper portion of the body, which is why IBS pain is so unpredictable.
Traditional IBS Pain Treatment
There is a wide range of options when it comes to treatment of IBS. We’ll discuss “natural” treatment options for IBS, which is used when symptoms of IBS are mild. Once symptoms are more severe, these “natural” treatments are used in conjunction with medications.
For those people with IBS-C, or IBS with constipation:
- A fiber supplement helps to control constipation. An example is a psyllium (Metamucil is one such brand), but there are plenty of fiber supplements to choose from. It is important to consume an adequate amount of water with a fiber supplement.
- A laxative may be prescribed if adding a fiber supplement doesn’t help to relieve constipation symptoms. Examples include polyethylene glycol (Miralax) and magnesium hydroxide oral (Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia).
For those people with IBS-D, or IBS with diarrhea:
- Anti-diarrheal medications are often recommended. Some can be picked up over-the-counter. For example, loperamide (Imodium) is typically recommended. When symptoms become severe, your physician may prescribe cholestyramine (Prevalite), colestipol (Colestid), or colesevelam (Welchol).
- If you have painful bowel spasms, anticholinergic medications are often prescribed. An example is dicyclomine (Bentyl), which also helps with diarrhea. However, it has a downside – it can then cause constipation.
- Antidepressants from multiple drug categories can be prescribed as well. They work in numerous ways to reduce pain associated with IBS.
- Certain pain medications that work on the nervous system are also helpful for IBS pain; examples include pregabalin (Lyrica) and gabapentin (Neurontin).
There are also some medications that are specific to IBS. They work in specific ways, and their descriptions are beyond the scope of this article, but they include alosetron (Lotronex), eluxadoline (Viberzi), rifaximin (Xifaxan), lubiprostone (Amitiza), and linaclotide (Linzess).
Natural IBS Pain Treatment
So, how can you treat your IBS pain naturally?
These treatments work best if your symptoms are mild, or when you use them in conjunction with traditional therapies.
First, keep a log of the foods that you are eating. You can then pinpoint what foods are causing you pain. Then, eliminate those foods from your diet entirely.
And while you’re changing your diet, begin to eat a high-fiber diet. Consuming a diet rich in fibers will regulate your bowel movements, which is helpful whether you have IBS-C or IBS-D.
Other helpful tips, according to Mayo Clinic, include getting plenty of fluids, exercising regularly, and getting adequate rest.
If you’re still struggling, it may be time to meet with a dietitian. Have you ever heard of FODMAPs? Neither have most people, but eliminating them from your diet can make a world of difference.
FODMAP is an acronym for “fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols” – specific carbohydrates that are found in certain grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. A dietitian can give you advice on how to pinpoint FODMAPs and eliminate them from your diet, should this be the cause of your discomfort.
How to Relieve IBS Pain Fast
Unfortunately, there is no “fast” way to relieve IBS pain.
As with any chronic condition, the pain is chronic and it tends to come and go. We must figure out the triggers and that can take time and energy. However, some tricks can temporarily relieve the pain – but the pain can return if we’re not careful with the triggers.
For example, applying a headed compress to the abdomen is helpful. According to VeryWell, “Applying warmth to your belly will not only help soothe you psychologically, but it can also speed up pain relief. Research indicates that the best results are achieved with low-level and continuous heat.”
Utilizing other self-soothing techniques are helpful as well. These are helpful because they can distract from the pain.
For example, having a hot cup of tea or coffee, talking with a friend, taking a yoga class, using visualization techniques, meditation, and deep breathing techniques are all great tools.
And while we’re talking about teas, there are specific teas that may help with tummy troubles:
- Peppermint tea is known to help with all times of stomach maladies.
- Anise tea can help with constipation.
- Chamomile tea and fennel tea can help with constipation but are contraindicated on a low-FODMAP diet.