Seven tips to help you manage and prevent IBS attacks in the workplace

Do you suffer from IBS? Here are seven tips to help you manage and prevent IBS attacks in the workplace.

IBS can often be quite embarrassing, so suffering with symptoms during work can be truly terrifying for many people.

IBS is a fairly common condition, and it can be easily manageable providing you know what to avoid, symptoms to look out for and how to prevent IBS attacks from occurring.

To help you feel more confident and comfortable at work, we share advice on how to prevent and manage attacks at work. But first, let’s look at what IBS is and how it can impact your life.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects your digestive system. The symptoms of IBS include:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Mucus in your stools
  • Changes in your bowl movements

If you have IBS you’ll notice that the symptoms can come and go. They can last for anything from a few days to several months. There’s no cure for IBS, but many people notice an improvement in symptoms with dietary changes and medication.

We don’t know exactly what causes IBS, but it has been connected to food moving through your gut too slow or fast, oversensitive nerves in your gut, stress and a family history of the condition. You are more at risk of IBS if you are young (under 50), female, have a family history of IBS or have anxiety, depression or other mental health issues.

The two biggest triggers for an attack of IBS for most people are eating a particular kind of food and stress.

How does IBS affect your life?

IBS can have a considerable impact on your life. Many people with moderate to severe IBS experience a lower quality of life, and say that it affects their productivity an average of eight days a month, and leads them to miss approximately one and a half days of work or school a month.

IBS can also impact how you live your life, including avoiding places without bathrooms, having difficulty making plans, avoiding leaving the house, and being reluctant to travel.

Seven tips to help you manage and prevent IBS attacks in the workplace

Given all this, it’s no surprise that IBS can affect your performance and confidence at work. To help you, Parvinder Sagoo, Lead Pharmacist for SimplyMedsOnline reveals his expert tips for managing and preventing IBS attacks in the workplace. 

1) Avoid certain food triggers

Eating the wrong food is the number one trigger for IBS and often eating just a tiny amount of something that is not going to agree with you is a sure fire way to ruin your day. Foods you should try to avoid as much as you can would be bread and cereals made with refined grains, so you can try to stick to whole grain bread if you like to enjoy a sandwich for lunch.

Dairy products should also be avoided, especially cheese. Avoid certain drinks such as carbonated drinks, alcohol and coffee. If you are on a working lunch with colleagues, try to avoid alcohol where possible, you can always opt for non alcoholic wine so you don’t feel embarrassed.

During a work day I would advise eating a lighter lunch and avoiding any key food triggers that could cause you to have an upset stomach all afternoon.

You can read more helpful diet advice on this food fact sheet from The Association of UK Dietitians.

2) Watch out for early symptoms 

Often people with IBS will be able to tell if an attack is about to come on, this can be from early symptoms which gradually start to get worse as the day goes on. Some of these key symptoms can be stomach pain, cramping, nauseas, constipation, bloating and gas.

If you start experiencing symptoms, I would advise taking IBS medication right away to help manage symptoms. And avoid any unnecessary triggers which may make symptoms worse such as coffee or certain foods.

It can also help to have an emergency IBS attack kit ready at work. Not only will this ensure you have what you need if an attack happens, but it can also lessen your anxiety around attacks by knowing it’s there. Here are some suggestions for what you may want to include in your kit:

  • Spare underwear and clothing
  • Tissues or wipes
  • Snacks that are ‘IBS safe’ for you
  • Peppermint tea bags
  • Bottled water
  • IBS medication

3) Speak to your boss and coworkers

It may seem embarrassing at first, but letting your boss and coworkers know that you suffer from IBS will allow you to feel more comfortable when it comes to backing out of work events or meetings and they will be able to understand why.

If you keep it quiet it could leave you to feel more stressed which could make symptoms worse. Making people you work with aware of your condition will allow you to work better and feel comfortable with taking days off work or canceling work meetings. 

There are several things you employer can do to help you manage your condition at work. These include:

  • Flexible working hours
  • Working from home
  • Easy access to toilets
  • Allowing you to have regular work and toilet breaks
  • Access to a quiet place to relax

4) Prevent symptoms with medication

Treating IBS with the appropriate medication is the best way to help prevent symptoms and to relieve any pain. There are a number of different IBS treatments so it’s just working out what will work best for you. Speak to your pharmacist or GP to get a better understanding of IBS and how to manage symptoms and prevent future attacks.

5) Avoid office triggers

Avoiding certain office triggers is key to preventing IBS attacks whilst at work. For example, limiting your coffee intake is crucial. Most often people tend to drink more caffeine in the office as your colleagues may regularly make hot drinks and offer to make you one, it can be easier to say yes than no sometimes but try to stay aware of your situation and try to limit the amount you drink.

Everyones different so it depends on how severe your IBS is, but I would suggest limiting it to two a day, max. You should also be careful with food, so if it’s a colleague’s birthday and they bring in cake or processed food snacks, try to avoid it where possible. Try to avoid work lunches where you may feel pressured to eat certain foods. 

Here’s how you can adopt more healthy office drinking habits if you need help giving up caffeine!

6) Limit long meetings, presentations, and travel

Long meetings, travel and presentations can be an IBS sufferer’s worst nightmare, so where possible try to limit the amount you are doing. Speak to your boss or colleagues about your situation, chances are one of your colleagues will be happy to take on any meetings or trips that you have to cancel due to IBS. 

7) Reduce work stress

Stress can be a key trigger for IBS, so trying to reduce any unnecessary stress is key for managing symptoms. Try to keep your workload manageable and keep a good working routine so you don’t find yourself working late or burnt out which could increase stress levels.

If you do feel stressed which is affecting IBS, speak to your boss or HR about how you can take on a less stressful role, or a better way of working for you and your team. Here are three things you can also do if you are suffering from stress or overwhelm at work.

Research shows that treatments like hypnotherapy and psychotherapy, and relaxation techniques can help you manage anxiety and negative thoughts, and help you better manage your stress. 

Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan