Irritable Bowel Syndrome: How To Relieve IBS Pain Fast

Pain is one of the dominant symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It’s most often a cramping, periodic pain. Unlike chronic pain, IBS pain often comes from alterations in bowel movements, leading to constipation, diarrhea, or both.

Pain that lasts for a short time is acute; chronic if it lasts six months or longer. The latter may be constant or frequently recur over extended periods.

While chronic IBS pain can occur anywhere in the abdomen, it’s most commonly in the lower abdomen. It may get worse soon after eating or after a bowel movement. In most cases, it improves with a bowel action. The pain isn't always predictable and may change over time.

Have you considered clinical trials for Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Understanding IBS pain

IBS affects approximately 10%–15% of the world’s population¹, although they don’t all experience the same kind of pain. Sufferers have described it in a variety of ways, including:

  • Throbbing

  • Sharp

  • Aching

  • Stabbing

  • Cramping

If you are a sufferer, it can interfere with daily life so you’ll want to know how to relieve IBS pain fast.

Chronic IBS pain is not a result of structural damage as with stomach ulcers or a broken bone. However, the pain is just as real.  The sensation starts in the gut and travels to the brain, where it is interpreted as pain.

It’s not entirely clear what causes IBS. In some patients, it’s evident that the gut is contracting frequently, or there’s an irregularity in the contractions which results in abnormal bowel habits and pain.

Another explanation for the pain is that people with IBS are hypersensitive to the pain sensors in the gut. Brain imaging for IBS² shows that people with IBS experience pain due to gut bloating.

IBS may also cause you pain from sensations that are not generally experienced as pain – a condition known as ‘allodynia’³.

Other potential triggers for IBS can include stress, post-acute gastroenterological infections, and certain foods.

Finding relief for IBS

It's essential to know how to treat IBS at home when you have IBS stomach pain. While there's no magic wand to make the symptoms disappear, you can do a few things to potentially ease digestive discomfort and pain.

Some of these, like the low FODMAP diet, have been tested in trials while others are anecdotal.

Apply gentle heat

Placing a warm heat pack or water bottle on the belly for 15 to 20 minutes can help ease the pain. The gentle heat and simple act of taking a break may relieve you of some of the discomforts that come with IBS. The 15- to 20-minute rest will do you some good, while the heat will relax your abdominal muscles.

Some people get relief from IBS pain by applying sports creams. These work by creating a warm sensation to treat the pain and trigger different sensory fibers in the area. They provide an efficient way of relieving pain on the go.

Try a low FODMAP diet for IBS

A low FODMAP diet⁴ has fewer fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These elements are short-chain carbohydrates prevalent in most diets.

Research shows that the small intestine doesn't do a perfect job of absorbing FODMAPs. Subsequent effects include:

  • Increasing the amount of fluid in the bowel

  • Creating more gas

  • Bloating

When the stomach bloats, it slows the rate of digestion which can lead to pain, gas, and diarrhea, particularly in IBS patients. By eating a low FODMAP diet, you should see a decrease in the symptoms.

The process entails eliminating many foods you're used to and slowly reintroducing them to identify those that trigger IBS symptoms. At the same time, consider reducing your food portions and avoiding greasy foods like French fries and gassy foods like beans and apples.

One study showed that 62% of IBS patients⁵ showed improvements in their symptoms after following the diet. The patients continued to feel better almost a year after starting the diet. They also drastically reduced the number of doctor visits.

Take non-caffeinated tea

Another way to cope with IBS pain is to have a cup of hot tea. It has similar soothing effects to a heating pad. Drinking tea relaxes your body's system and can be good for digestive health.

You can alleviate IBS symptoms by sipping the following teas:

  • Lavender

  • Nettle

  • Ginger

  • Turmeric

  • Peppermint

  • Dandelion

  • Licorice

  • Fennel

If you're on a low FODMAP diet, it may help to avoid chamomile and fennel tea. Ensure you keep your pantry well-stocked so that you can make tea as soon as your IBS symptoms start to flare up.

Maintain an active lifestyle

You may wonder how to relieve IBS bloating with exercise. This can seem counterintuitive when you have IBS pain, gassiness, or diarrhea, but it can ease the symptoms. Engage in whatever activity you like, whether it's running, swimming, walking, or biking.

Being physically active lowers your cortisol levels, which in turn lowers stress. It also boosts mood-enhancing endorphins, a combination that works well to relieve IBS symptoms.

Running just 30 minutes on the treadmill⁶ three times a week helps reduce IBS symptoms and overall quality of life. This seemingly small intervention reduced symptoms by 50% in one small study of 102 IBS patients. Exercise improves the messages between the gut and the brain, easing the symptoms.

Try relaxation techniques

You can harness the power of your mind to affect pain by sending signals that close the pain gate.

IBS symptoms increase negative moods like gastrointestinal anxiety⁷. The condition comes with increased fear and worries as you give these thoughts increased attention.

Time-tested relaxation techniques can help you erase stressors. These include:

  • Hypnosis: The technique involves progressive relaxation and suggestions of soothing imagery and sensations to ease IBS symptoms.

  • Meditation: Mindful meditation helps you focus on the positive things around you and encourages you to live in the moment. This can help reduce IBS symptoms. It works well when combined with deep breathing and muscle relaxation.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps stop the harmful effects of the fight or flight response by turning to the "rest and digest" response. CBT treats depression and anxiety by acknowledging the interrelationship between feelings, thoughts, and behavior.

  • Visualization: Using your imagination to aid personal change and creating the future you desire is one way to relieve IBS cramping and symptoms.

Other potentially helpful interventions

  • Increase fiber intake and take laxatives to improve stool quality

  • Food allergy testing

  • Antidepressants 

  • Probiotics

The lowdown

IBS pain can be stressful, frustrating, and can reduce the quality of life. Your doctor must diagnose and treat your IBS, along with all the underlying symptoms. Don’t delay visiting your GP so that you can rule out any other causes of your symptoms. There are also things you can do at home to stop IBS pain and get fast pain relief.

Have you considered clinical trials for Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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