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IBS-C and CIC: 5 Strategies to Help You Feel More in Control

Five strategies for approaching everyday life when you’re living with a disorder that causes chronic constipation.

IBS-C and CIC: 5 Strategies to Help You Feel More in Control

Irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) is a common condition that impacts millions. People with IBS-C experience ongoing constipation and a range of other uncomfortable symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, gas, lumpy stools, and straining during bowel movements.

IBS-C shares a number of symptoms with chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC). Some researchers argue that the two belong to the same continuum of functional GI disorders.

Ongoing constipation can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and embarrassing. Many patients who experience these symptoms report that they have a major negative impact on normal life, including mental and emotional health, social life, work and school, and relationships.

The following strategies may help you feel better and feel more in control when living with IBS-C or CIC.

Work with a healthcare provider
This point cannot be stressed enough—if you are struggling with constipation or other GI symptoms, see a healthcare provider. While IBS-C and CIC are common causes of constipation, they are not the only causes. A variety of other GI disorders—as well as certain cancers, nerve problems, and hormonal disorders—can cause similar symptoms. You will need to work with a healthcare provider to rule out the possible causes of your symptoms and identify what treatments may help. IBS-C and CIC are typically treated with a combination of lifestyle changes, changes to diet, and medication.

Keep a symptom journal
If you don’t already, try keeping a record of your symptoms, bowel movements, the foods you eat (including your fluid intake and fiber intake), your stress level, and your daily activities. This may help identify patterns and triggers. It may also help you and your healthcare provider understand if a treatment is working.

You can also use a symptom journal to make note of the impact that constipation has on your life: Does it prevent you from going out? Does it make going to work or school difficult? Does it put a strain on your relationship? Have you stopped doing things you enjoy because of your symptoms?

Be active
Along with changes to diet and drinking enough fluids, exercise is sometimes mentioned as a recommended lifestyle change for people experiencing constipation. It is important to understand that lifestyle changes alone cannot relieve symptoms of IBS-C or CIC, but they may be helpful for some people.

It is also important to acknowledge the many benefits exercise can have on your overall health. Exercise can improve the health of your heart, help you maintain a healthy weight, and reduce your risk of many diseases. It has also been shown to improve mood and sense of wellbeing.

Remember that exercise does not have to be hard, and any type of movement can count. It can be as simple as going for a walk or doing chores. If you are not exercising regularly, talk to your healthcare provider about exercising safely and how to get started.

Reduce stress
For some people, feelings of stress and anxiety can aggravate constipation symptoms. Also, IBS-C and CIC can be stressful conditions to live with, and disorders like anxiety and depression are more prevalent among people with IBS.

In addition to aggravating constipation symptoms, long-term stress is bad for your overall health, and it is important to find ways to reduce stress. This can be as simple as making time for a hobby or taking a few minutes to play with your pet. You may also want to try a mindfulness activity such as meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises. Stress is also an important topic to discuss with your healthcare provider. Counseling, support groups, and cognitive behavioral therapy may also benefit some patients.

Plan ahead
Sticking to an eating plan and a routine is an important part of managing IBS or CIC. But sticking to a routine can be difficult, especially when something disrupts your normal day-to-day schedule.

A disruption could be an event like a holiday party, an outing with friends, going out to eat, working overtime at your job, or traveling. As best as you can, plan ahead for these situations. Pack healthy snacks and water. If you’re dining out, know in advance what foods will be on the menu. If you’re taking medication, make sure to take it with you. Schedule a bathroom break and know where the bathrooms are to avoid delaying having a bowel movement when you need to.

Medically reviewed in April 2020.

Sources:
American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. "Understanding Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Constipation (IBS-C)."
Brooks D. Cash. "Understanding and Managing IBS and CIC in the Primary Care Setting." Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 2018. Vol. 14, No. 5.
UpToDate. "Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome in adults."
Maria Ines Pinto Sanchez and Premysl Bercik. "Epidemiology and burden of chronic constipation." Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, 2011. Vol. 25, Supplement B.
Sarah Ballou, Alyse Bedell, and Laurie Keefer. “Psychosocial impact of irritable bowel syndrome: A brief review.” World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology, 2015. Vol. 6, No. 4.
UpToDate. "Patient education: Irritable bowel syndrome (Beyond the Basics)."
Mayo Clinic. "Constipation."
Christine Hsieh. "Treatment of Constipation in Older Adults." American Family Physician, 2005. Vol. 72, No. 11.
Bryan Hodge. "The Use of Symptom Diaries in Outpatient Care." Family Practice Management, 2013. Vol. 20, No. 3.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Constipation: Causes and Prevention Tips."
Harvard Health Publishing. "Common causes of constipation."
MedlinePlus. "Benefits of Exercise."
Mayo Clinic. "Irritable bowel syndrome."
Hong-Yan Qin, Chung-Wah Cheng, Xu-Dong Tang, and Zhao-Xiang Bian. "Impact of psychological stress on irritable bowel syndrome." World Journal of Gastroenterology, 2014. Vol. 20, No. 39.
National Institute of Mental Health. "5 Things You Should Know About Stress."
Roberta Hunter. "Common Digestive Problems in Women." UC Health Media Room, January 2015.
International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. "Irritable Bowel Syndrome and a Healthy Holiday Season."
Weill Cornell Medicine. "5 Winning Ways to Live a Normal Life with IBS."
Cleveland Clinic. "8 Tips to Keep You Regular While Traveling."
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