Suffering from IBS with pain, such as abdominal stomach discomfort symptoms can be very unpleasant. There are more people than we may first realize who are living with IBS. This often involves IBS pain in stomach episodes. If relief of IBS pain is something you are interested to find out how to achieve, I hope this article will be helpful for you.
I use hypnotherapy to help reduce IBS with pain symptoms, for people living in London.
I use hypnotherapy to help reduce IBS with pain symptoms for people living in London. For more details of my programme click here. And of course there are other methods to bring the relief of IBS pain, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or medication. In this article we’ll be looking at how to better cope with IBS. When someone has pain, in particular, IBS with pain, pain is usually found in the stomach. It can, at times, feel like nothing works to stop it. However I have also included here some helpful and positive tips for IBS suffers. Use these tips to stay focused and positive.
IBS with Pain: What is your Pain Like?
The pain that you might feel with IBS could be anywhere in the belly or abdomen region. This chronic pain is often in the lower part of the abdomen. Sometimes discomfort feels worse after eating and may also only really feel relieved after a bowl movement. It’s not always clear when or in what circumstances pain will be better or worse. Often people with IBS pain will describe their pain as being in their stomach, but use different words, in different ways, to describe their IBS with pain experience. IBS, of course, is a condition which is unfortunately long-term and can be very challenging both for those that have to live with IBS pain and also for healthcare providers.
It’s likely that IBS affects 10 to 15% of adults and many of them will actually not go to see a doctor to gain relief of their IBS pain. Often that can be due to embarrassment or because they fear it could be something worse.
Pain is often the dominant and main symptom experienced by people who have IBS. Three quarters of IBS sufferers report having frequent or continuous pain in the abdomen area and pain can be the main reason IBS feels severe or unmanageable. However, unlike other chronic pains, IBS with pain as a main symptom is often associated with bowel movements, problems such as constipation, diarrhoea or experiencing both of these.
Why is IBS with pain in the stomach so painful?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition in which typically the symptoms felt or experience are very much concerned and related to even small changes in the tummy and digestive system. IBS is described by experts such as gastroenterologist as a ‘functional’ medical condition. By ‘functional’ specialist doctors refer to something in which there is no clear disease or immediate danger causing the discomfort or symptoms. This sets IBS apart from conditions such as Crohn’s or colitis, which do have ulcers of other visible causes.
As a functional condition with IBS there’s a change of the two way relationship of digestion and brain. This change in the ‘gut-brain axis’, will affect the intensity of pain signals and motility (movement) within the gut and felt in the mind. Sometimes it can be that the pain you experience is referred to as chronic or visceral pain. Visceral refers to something involving the body’s internal organs. And of course IBS is found in the gut and intestines. You would then experience pain or discomfort in your digestive tract due to hypersensitivity to food eaten or other movements, even simple trapped air can prompt a flare up. So, it’s really the physical functioning of your gut which precipitates the experience of pain. However IBS with pain in the stomach, fortunately, has no direct disease or serious cause. It represents the regular ‘functioning’ of your digestion that results in your unwanted discomfort. Hypnotherapy works to soothe this hypersensitivity. As such when someone has gut pain, that message goes to the brain. It is the brain where the reality of pain is actually experienced. Hypnotherapy for IBS addresses this communication path. As with most pain, especially chronic pain, there will often be an accompanying emotional component too. Pain, of course, is distressing in any event.
IBS is slightly more complex that the pain felt when you fall over or hit your arm. This is sine the pain you feel is also often associated with unhelpful thoughts and feelings. These thoughts might be bout illness or that the pain you just felt signals that some damage is being caused to the body. These thoughts, though feeling very real, are not accurate. IBS sufferers also may find that when they experience anxiety, which for many is indeed ‘butterflies in the stomach’ or other sensation sin that part of the body, they will feel pain instead.
The important thing to remember is that the truth is that your gut is most probably healthy. Indeed normally someone diagnosed with IBS by a gastroenterologist, has many tests, none showing anything worrying. Rather IBS is, though painful, a hypersensitive to food or small movements or changes. The brain over interprets gut signals and thoughts will be experienced about damage or illness that are not accurate of reality. This concern about damage is not often something that happens with general chronic pain. So it’s important to note that irritable bowl syndrome, or IBS with pain is not associated with actual structural damage or disease within the digestive system, as you might have with other gastrointestinal disorders. If it’s helpful, you can view IBS with pain in the tummy to be similar to a chronic ‘headache’ of your gut, a pain where the cause isn’t visibly noticeable, but the pain most certainly is of course very distressing for those that have it. To me, personally, it might be compared even to having ADHD in the tummy. Just like a mind with ADHD, a tummy with IBS is very sensitive to all stimuli and requires ways to calm and focus. So you might go to see your doctor and have pretty normal results for your blood tests, endoscopy, x-rays, etc. Often IBS is a diagnosis after all other things have been excluded.
What really causes IBS with Pain in the stomach?
It’s that connection between the brain and your gut, known as the brain gut axis, that results in IBS with pain and discomfort in the abdomen. That ‘axis’ really is the cause of those symptoms which are so painful. A part of IBS is this hypersensitivity to that feeling in the gut. Pain in the stomach is felt in the brain. The brain receives that signal and over interprets its meaning. In turn, the brain also sends signals back to the gut, signals which result from stress or thoughts. This two way miscommunication then results in that troublesome IBS pain in stomach episodes.
Also emotional or psychological factors can disrupt the brain’s usual ability to decrease or create a more measured response to the pain signals it receives from your gut. Also factors in the memory such as traumatic memories, deprivation or neglect when young, can all also mean an overactive mind will interpret signals from the gut to have more meaning than maybe they do in reality. Then, as a result, you feel an experience of IBS with pain in the abdomen.
Long lasting pain in IBS is comparable to having chronic pain more and more. These IBS pain in stomach episodes or chronic pain episodes may start to develop from singular, occasional episodes of discomfort. Research has shown that people who then have these signals more and more frequently, will find that a signal goes to the brain increasingly faster, the more often an episode happens. Your brain starts to expect pain and so ‘tricks’ itself into believing pain is about to occur, since it has conditioned itself to expect it to come. That expectation that pain will happen, means you can become hyper vigilant and have selective attention, looking out and giving more attention , starting to predict that something bad, or in this case, painful, will happen.
This hyper vigilance can also happen with thoughts as well as IBS pain in stomach episodes. For example, you may find that you are experiencing repetitive and unhelpful thoughts about IBS and pain or other symptoms. Examples of these can be along the lines of, ‘why can’t someone help me’ or ‘why do I have to live with this?’ or. ‘will I ever get better?’ These catastrophizing thoughts really can also mean that your outlook can get pessimistic or hopeless at times.
In sessions with clients, we look at these thoughts. Indeed you may find that CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy) is an excellent way as well to confront and reduce these unhelpful thought patterns. These unhelpful thoughts are an example of how having IBS with pain symptoms is very similar to the experience of people who suffer with other chronic pains. These people will often experience negative thought patterns as well. Pain in the stomach will therefore mirror that chronic pain experience in some ways.
How to treat IBS with Pain
Relief of IBS pain should be an active process and partnership between you and your healthcare professional or therapist. Since it’s the brain-gut axis that is the cause of the distress, that’s exactly why treatments such as hypnotherapy can be so effective. Hypnotherapy looks directly at and treats directly that very connection between the brain and gut.
IBS with pain is a very physical experience. However, some of the factors involved are emotional and psychological. It’s important that good treatment of IBS is holistic, looking at both emotional as well as physical factors. Psychological or talking therapies and other therapies that address the subconscious such as hypnotherapy can be extremely effective in reducing IBS pain in the stomach region and IBS with pain episodes, in general.
How do you manage pain? Sometimes the first step is self education. If your IBS is mild, then perhaps you may just look at the gut alone. Think about your diet too and you may benefit from speaking to your doctor and speaking to a dietitian. Gain more information and education about how IBS works and about that relationship of the brain and gut. Chronic pain can be reversed and turned around, but it takes a while and involves psychological approaches and self management. Self management is something that I look at in great detail with clients.
It takes time for chronic pain to be relieved and relief of IBS with pain is a process that can take a number of weeks. A good programme might involve hypnotherapy (hypnosis), Mindfulness, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and relaxation techniques. Part of the treatment should be to reduce symptoms and also help ensure you restore a good sense of control over your symptoms and disorder too. Your consultant may recommend medications to reduce pain and to calm your stomach and to treat other symptoms such as diarrhoea or constipation. There are other medications which work to block the signals from the brain to the gut. Your doctor may also recommend a mild antidepressant in order to calm the brain.
Helpful and positive tips for people living with IBS with pain symptoms.
I will conclude this article with ten tips to stay focused and positive. I hope these tips will be helpful and you can use them right now.
One – Acceptance.
Being unwell with IBS pain can be difficult to accept. It’s a fact that you feel pain and discomfort. You can’t run away from it. So therefore, my first tip is to learn more about your condition, gain information about how to manage it, and understand how it works and also to get more involved in your own health. Don’t be passive. Take an active role.
Two – Speak to a range of healthcare providers.
Seek out new ways that can help you. Often we may blame others or blame ourselves for the discomfort we feel. It’s up to you and you alone to look after your symptoms. Ultimately, your doctor can provide you medication. However, medication is not a magic wand. You will need to also look into other solutions as well, for yourself.
Three – Set good priorities for your care.
Don’t just think only about symptoms and don’t make symptoms the main thing in your life. When your life starts revolving around symptoms, that means the condition is, in a sense, winning and bringing your level and quality of life down. What are aspects of your life that are unimportant? Cut them down or out completely. Preserve your energy and use your energy to really live life more to the full. When you feel greater levels of well being, you have more energy to do well and feel more in control and more relief of any IBS pain you might feel.
Four – Set goals for yourself.
Goals are useful as they motivate you and also help you feel empowered. IBS is a condition which often leaves people feeling hopeless and under the control of troublesome symptoms. Change that around and set some goals today. Think about exercise and think about fun and enjoyable things that you can do with your time. That’s especially if you’ve noticed that over the last weeks you’ve decreased social activities, exercise or activities you enjoy.
Five – Know what your healthcare provider can give you.
Don’t be shy when speaking to your consultant or GP. Discuss your IBS pain with them and ask them about relief of IBS pain and relief of other symptoms. It’s important to really ask the right questions and voice your opinion. If you feel they are offering you something that won’t work, let them know.
Six – Recognize and accept the emotions you’re feeling.
Everybody feels up and down, that’s part of life. Everybody feels joy and feel sadness. There’s a connection between your gut and your brain and that’s part of the IBS story. To reduce the frequency of IBS pain in stomach episodes you will need to get more familiar with your emotions. In fact, it’s strong emotions that can affect pain as well. Strong emotions can affect how we feel and pain itself can sometimes exacerbate pain too. Feeling relief of IBS pain will involve looking at and noticing your emotions. This may involve meditation or therapy such as CBT or other therapy interventions.
Seven – Find more relaxation.
Pain can be draining and tiring. Relaxation is essential and it’s in fact when you’re feeling unwell that you need to find more relaxation the most. Often you might think that you need to be busy and always looking for a new solution. However, right now is the exact time that you need to find more relaxation. Lowering your stress levels will mean that you can increase wellbeing and calm. In fact your symptoms hopefully will calm as well. Relaxation is a way to reclaim your control over your body too. You might find hypnosis helpful. Also Yoga, meditation, exercise, deep breathing techniques and gentle exercise can all leave you calmer. Choose something that you enjoy doing.
Exercise and movement are great because they help you feel good. Exercise helps you feel more active and also means that you’re looking after your wellbeing. Exercise can also be a good way to meet other people, decrease isolation and decrease over attention to symptoms and help increase your sense of control over your life as well. You will feel much better about yourself.
Nine – Refocus your attention.
As you may have noticed with all of these tips, it’s about moving your attention away from pain and thinking more about feeling empowered and in control. If you experience IBS with pain symptoms, change where you focus your attention. Don’t view yourself as a victim. Don’t focus on what you can’t do and don’t focus on how pain is affecting your life negatively. Think positively. Today is a new day.
Ten – Reach out for support
Of course ensure you make appointments with your doctor or consultant. Consider other healthcare providers who may be able to help you. You may also discover online forums or groups close by that will be supportive and there are many websites too to find information on. There may be other people that are going through something similar. You are not alone. Reaching out and finding support can also mean that you can share your feelings and when you share your feelings, you feel more relaxed and calm and will feel more positive too. In fact, other people may also find that hearing your story will support to them as well. Unfortunately, experiencing IBS pain in stomach episodes is more common than we realize. So let’s get together and share our stories and share your experiences around experiencing IBS with pain. You’ll feel a greater sense of community with other people too.
See also Deep Dive Therapy