A girl laying on a couch under a blanket, clutching her stomach.
IBS is more common in women than men.

What You Need to Know About IBS Pain Relief

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder that causes a variety of symptoms. One of the most common symptoms of IBS is pain. In fact, three quarters of people with the condition report experiencing IBS pain to some extent. Here is all you need to know about IBS pain, its causes and IBS pain relief.

What Is IBS?

IBS is short for irritable bowel syndrome. It is a functional disorder, meaning that it stems from problems in the way the bowels work rather than physical damage.

Most experts now agree that IBS is the result of miscommunication between the brain and the intestines, also called the gut-brain axis.

In healthy people, the intestines contract regularly, helping digested food to pass through them smoothly. However, when the brain and the intestines are not working together effectively, this process is interrupted.

In people with IBS, the intestines can contract too much, too little, or at irregular intervals. This means that food can pass through too quickly or slowly, resulting in diarrhea or constipation. It also leads to a litany of other unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms.

What Causes IBS?

Although we know that IBS occurs due to disruption of the gut-brain axis, it is unclear exactly what causes it in the first place. However, IBS is more common in women, suggesting that hormones may play a crucial role. The condition also appears to run in families, suggesting that genetics are involved.

Furthermore, IBS can become worse when a person is emotionally stressed or eats specific foods. Many people find that by identifying and avoiding their personal triggers, they can greatly reduce the severity of their symptoms.

IBS Symptoms

IBS symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Some people with IBS are more prone to diarrhea, while others are more prone to constipation. Some people experience mixed bowel movements, with alternating constipation and diarrhea.

Other common IBS symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Mucus in the stools

A large number of people with IBS also experience pain on a regular basis. So, what causes IBS pain and how can it be relieved?

How IBS Causes Pain

Pain is one of the most common and troublesome symptoms of IBS. Experts believe that people with IBS have heightened sensitivity in the nerves that supply their intestines. This means that gas, bowel movements and even the normal process of digestion can be painful.

Furthermore, when people experience IBS pain regularly, the way that the nervous system relays messages to the brain changes. The brain amplifies the pain signals, making them seem worse than what they really are.

All of this pain can cause stress, which in turn affects the nervous system further. The more stressed a person becomes, the more pain they are likely to experience; the more pain a person is in, the more stressed they are likely to become.

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What Is IBS Pain Like?

People with IBS define their pain in various ways. Some of the most common descriptions include:

  • Aching
  • Cramping
  • Spasms
  • Stabbing
  • Sharp pain
  • Throbbing

IBS pain can range from mild to debilitating. It can also occur in different areas of the abdomen. For example, pain could occur in the upper abdomen shortly after eating a meal.

However, the most common place for IBS pain to occur is the lower abdomen. In many cases, some relief occurs following a bowel movement. With that said, some people experience more intense pain during or after a bowel movement.

Natural Remedies for IBS Pain

One of the best natural things for IBS pain relief is practicing good eating habits. These include:

  • Eating little and often
  • Not skipping or delaying meals
  • Sitting down to eat
  • Chewing food properly
  • Avoiding trigger foods

Avoid Trigger Foods

It should be possible to identify any trigger foods by keeping a diary for a few weeks. Some common culprits include:

  • Spicy food
  • Greasy food
  • High-fiber foods
  • Wheat
  • Dairy products
  • Carbonated drinks

Manage Stress Levels

Since stress plays such a significant role in the development of IBS pain, it is essential to find effective stress-management techniques.

Find an Exercise Routine

Exercise is one way to blow off steam and also helps to improve gut function. Some people also find relaxation techniques helpful, including:

  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Yoga

Therapy for IBS

Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also help patients to change the way they think about their pain. This can help to break the pain-stress cycle and may offer some relief, although the process will take time.

For more immediate relief, techniques like applying a heat pack or drinking herbal tea may help. Some of the best herbal teas for IBS include peppermint and fennel.

Medical Treatment for IBS Pain

If natural remedies are not effective, there are a few different medications for IBS pain available.

One of the most popular choices is peppermint oil, which is available in capsule form. Peppermint is a natural antispasmodic and may help to relieve IBS cramping and pain.

Another option is anticholinergic medication, such as hyoscine. Like peppermint oil, it helps to reduce spasms in the intestines to relieve pain. However, it can cause side effects, including dry mouth, drowsiness and constipation.

In severe cases, doctors may prescribe antidepressants such as amitriptyline. These medications alter the way the nervous system interprets pain signals. However, they can cause similar side effects to those of hyoscine. They may also take several weeks to work.

Other useful medications include lubiprostone, which can help to manage IBS symptoms as a whole. However, it is advisable to consult a physician before using any medical treatments or natural remedies for IBS.

It is especially important to seek medical attention if your pain is accompanied by:

  • A hard and swollen abdomen
  • Blood in the stools
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Pain in the chest, neck, or between the shoulders
  • Shortness of breath
  • Continuous vomiting

These symptoms indicate that something more serious than IBS pain is going on and should be investigated thoroughly.