Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a problem with the intestines that causes belly pain, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. The cause of IBS is not well known. IBS can last for many years, but it does not get worse over time or lead to serious disease.

Most people can control their symptoms by changing their diet and reducing stress.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • To reduce diarrhea, limit or avoid:
    • Alcohol.
    • Caffeine, which is found in coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate.
    • Nicotine from smoking or chewing tobacco.
    • Gas-producing foods, such as beans, broccoli, cabbage, or apples.
    • Dairy products that contain lactose (milk sugar), such as ice cream or milk.
    • Foods and drinks high in sugar, especially fruit juice, soda, candy, and other packaged sweets (such as cookies).
    • Foods high in fat, including bacon, sausage, butter, oils, and anything deep-fried.
    • Sorbitol and xylitol. These are artificial sweeteners found in some sugarless candies and chewing gum.
  • To reduce constipation:
    • Slowly increase the amount of fiber you eat. For some people who have IBS, eating more fiber may make some symptoms worse, including bloating. Adding fiber slowly may help you avoid these problems.
    • Include fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains in your diet each day. These foods are high in fiber.
    • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • Get some exercise every day. Build up slowly to 30 to 60 minutes a day on 5 or more days of the week.
    • Take a fiber supplement, such as Citrucel or Metamucil, every day if needed. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Schedule time each day for a bowel movement. Having a daily routine may help. Take your time and do not strain when having a bowel movement.
  • Keep a daily diary of what you eat and what symptoms you have. This may help find foods that cause you problems.
  • Eat slowly. Try to make mealtime relaxing.
  • Find ways to reduce stress.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your pain is different than usual or occurs with fever.
  • You lose weight without trying, or you lose your appetite and you do not know why.
  • Your symptoms often wake you from sleep.
  • Your stools are black and tarlike or have streaks of blood.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your IBS symptoms get worse or begin to disrupt your day-to-day life.
  • You become more tired than usual.
  • Your home treatment stops working.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.