Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The IBS Survival Kit

Be prepared to deal with IBS symptoms when you are out and about instead of being surprised and unprepared.

Be Prepared

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be a challenge to live with. Being out and about brings bigger challenges. If you think ahead and keep some emergency supplies handy, you can better handle your symptoms.

Always have a plan of what you will do if IBS symptoms strike.

Know Where to Go

Anyone with IBS needs to map out paths to follow if an emergency strikes. How do I get to the nearest restroom? What's the quickest, easiest and least-conspicuous way out? If you have a plan, things will go a lot more smoothly when problems arise.

Eating out when you have IBS can be challenging so read the menu carefully and ask questions in the restaurant.

Check Out the Menu

Going out to eat can be scary for someone with IBS. Something that can trigger your IBS can be hiding under a piece of lettuce or a slice of cheese. Most restaurants have a menu you can read online before you go. If you have questions or concerns, call the place. Better to figure things out now than have to wing it later.

Eat ahead of time if you know you'll be somewhere where the food is not safe for you.

Eat Ahead of Time

Is everyone going to an Italian place, and you know you can't eat that? Sometimes it's best to get a meal in before you leave to avoid problems. If everyone else is eating and you don't want to feel left out, nosh on something you know won't trigger your IBS. Sip water. Just say you ate earlier. It's OK.

Watch what you eat, but don't avoid all fruits, veggies, beans and grains if they don't trigger IBS symptoms.

Watch What You Eat

Just because those fruits and veggies look harmless doesn't mean they can't trigger an episode. Hard-to-digest carbs in some fruits, vegetables, beans, and wheat can be a problem. Don't ban those foods. Just know which are trouble for you. Onion and garlic can be tricky, too.

Use mindfulness, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation to keep stress levels down.

Learn to Chill

If you're out and about and feel your IBS getting mean, it might help to have a go-to stress reliever. Relaxation techniques like mindfulness, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation can help. Talk with your doctor.

Physical activity decreases IBS symptoms, so do what you can.

Get Out, Work Out

Research says physical activity lowers IBS symptoms. So some physical activity can help cut stress and keep everything under control. Talk with your doctor about what would be good for you.

Minimize the time that you spend out if you are having IBS symptoms.

Limit the Long Outings

A commute. A meeting. A walk, even. When you have IBS, you know it can be hard to be away from your comfort zone -- not to mention a restroom. Try to cut the time you're in the car or in a conference room or away from the bathroom. The longer you're stuck somewhere, the more likely problems can be.

Let some people know you have IBS so you can ask for help if you need to.

Let (Some) People Know

You don't have to tell everyone about your IBS. It might help to have someone at work, at home, or on the road who can cover for you when symptoms pull you away.

Keep loperamide on hand to stop diarrhea if you get an attack of IBS symptoms.

Have Medicine Handy

A go-to for a lot of IBS sufferers, loperamide (Imodium) treats sudden diarrhea and slows muscles in your gut. Keep a few tablets (it comes in liquid form, too) on you or near you at all times. You can put it in your pocket, your car, and your desk. A good rule: Take it 20 minutes before you go somewhere you may face a problem.

Use simethicone or activated charcoal to help with gas and bloating.

Keep Gas at Bay

Gas pills like simethicone or activated charcoal can help with bloating, too. They can be critical allies in spots, like in public, where IBS symptoms could be a problem.

Peppermint oil may help alleviate gas, bloating, and IBS symptoms.

Take What Works for You

Peppermint oil can help with pain and bloating. And if you have other go-to remedies -- anything that helps, even only occasionally -- stash some in your kit. It can't hurt.

Keep underwear and an extra pair of bottoms on hand in case of accidents.

Pack Spares

An emergency kit isn't complete without underwear and a pair of slacks. Keep a spare pair of each in a backpack or something similar, and make sure you can get to it when you need to.

Keep travel sizes of toilet paper and wet wipes on hand for emergencies.

Take Clean-ups

Toilet paper and wet wipes are musts. Travel sizes of both are available. Make sure the toilet paper stays dry and clean in your kit, and that the wet wipes stay moist in their packet. Carry as much of each as you can fit in your kit.

Hand sanitizer is a must have for your emergency kit.

Hand Sanitizer Helps

The multi-packs of smaller, travel-sized bottles are probably better than the bigger, hard-to-handle bottles. But liquid hand sanitizer is a must for your kit. Keep some in the car, and the office, too.



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  • International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
  • Johannesson, E. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, May 2011.
  • Harvard Health Publications: "Try a FODMAPs diet to manage irritable bowel syndrome."
  • William D. Chey, MD, professor, GI & nutrition sciences; director, GI Physiology Laboratory; director, Digestive Disorders Nutrition & Lifestyle Program; medical director, Michigan Bowel Control Program, division of gastroenterology, University of Michigan Health System.
  • Kamil Obideen, MD, Roswell, GA.
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