Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly known as IBS, is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine. It’s widespread, affecting between five and ten percent of people worldwide. IBS is a disorder of gut-brain interaction, meaning that it affects the way the gut works rather than being caused by physical abnormalities in the digestive tract.
Living with IBS involves living with many bothersome symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation, to name a few. IBS can be challenging to manage and significantly impacts someone’s quality of life.
Even though so many people live with IBS, there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding it. Many people living with IBS may not feel comfortable talking about it. If someone you care about has been diagnosed with IBS, there are many ways you can support them. Read on to learn about seven of the best ways you can support a loved one living with IBS.
Educate Yourself About IBS
One of the most important things you can do to support someone living with IBS is to educate yourself about the condition. While it’s impossible to truly understand what a person goes through unless you’ve lived it yourself, working to understand the disease can help you better understand the challenges your loved one faces and how you can support them.
You can start by reading up on IBS, talking to healthcare professionals, or attending support groups. Here are a few websites to get you started:
- GI Society
- Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
- Monash University (low FODMAP diet)
Be Empathetic and Understanding
Living with IBS comes with plenty of challenges, both physical and emotional. To support a loved one with IBS, being empathetic and understanding toward them is crucial.
One of the biggest challenges with IBS is that it tends to be an invisible illness. Because it’s less visible than other illnesses, people tend to minimize the distress of someone living with IBS.
To understand what your loved one with IBS is going through, imagine the worst stomach flu you’ve ever had. Were you uncomfortable? Embarrassed? Exhausted? Scared to eat? Remembering how bad that experience was can give you an idea of what it’s like for someone who lives with those symptoms constantly.
To support your loved one living with IBS, be patient, listen to their concerns, and offer emotional support. By seeking to understand what they’re going through, you can help them feel validated and supported.
Accommodate Their Dietary Needs
People living with IBS may have specific dietary requirements, and certain foods may trigger their symptoms. For example, many people with IBS find symptom relief by following the low FODMAP diet. The low FODMAP diet excludes certain carbohydrates that can worsen digestive symptoms in people with IBS.
As a supportive person, try to accommodate their needs as much as possible. This could look like helping them prepare foods that are easy on their digestive system or avoiding eating certain foods (such as high FODMAP foods) when you’re together.
Offer to Help Out
Living with IBS can be exhausting, and chores can pile up, especially when a person is experiencing an IBS flare-up.
If your loved one is struggling, you can offer to run errands, help with chores, or cook for them. You might also offer to drive them to their doctor’s appointment. This can help relieve some of their stress and make their life more manageable.
Encourage Them to Seek Professional Help
Although IBS is a chronic condition (i.e., it doesn’t go away), many treatments can help a person manage their symptoms.
If your loved one is open to suggestions, encourage them to seek professional help and explore their treatment options. A healthcare professional can provide personalized advice on dietary changes, medication, or other lifestyle modifications to promote symptom management.
For example, a registered dietitian can help a person identify their personal IBS triggers and develop a plan to ensure they get all the nutrients they need while avoiding those trigger foods. Click here to get in touch and book your free 15-minute discovery call with Keren, a registered dietitian specializing in gut health.
Be Supportive During Flare-Ups
IBS symptoms can flare up anytime, and your loved one may experience sudden and intense discomfort. During these times, try to be supportive and offer practical help wherever possible.
If your loved one needs to cancel plans at the last minute due to an IBS flare-up, try to be understanding and flexible. Try to switch to a low-key activity like watching movies at home. IBS can feel very isolating, so coming up with activities that a person can participate in even if they’re feeling unwell can go a long way to helping them feel cared for and included.
Remember, a person living with IBS doesn’t have control over when their symptoms get worse. As a friend or family member, it’s essential to be flexible with plans to accommodate unexpected flare-ups.
Follow Their Lead
While it can be tempting to be overprotective of your loved one living with IBS, your loved one is the person best equipped to make decisions regarding their IBS. They know their body best and have likely had many years of trial and error that have taught them what works and what makes their symptoms worse.
While you may be trying to help, avoid giving your loved one unsolicited advice about managing their IBS. Instead, be supportive of how they try to manage their symptoms and be there for them when they need a helping hand.
IBS can feel very isolating, so it’s important to show empathy, understanding, and patience to your loved ones living with IBS.
By educating yourself about the condition, being supportive during flare-ups, and offering practical help whenever possible, you can help your loved one manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Remember, a little bit of kindness and support can go a long way in helping someone with IBS feel valued and supported.
Do you have a loved one living with IBS and struggling to find foods they can eat without triggering symptoms? A registered dietitian trained in IBS management can help. Click here to book a free 15-minute discovery call to learn how a registered dietitian can be a helpful partner in IBS management.