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Queasy? Crampy? Bloated?

Tummy troubles are especially common this time of year. Here, seven reasons why -- and how to ease the pain.

THE TRIGGER: You get frazzled and frenzied.
TUMMY TROUBLE: Painful colon spasms and cramps.

For the 25 percent of women in the United States who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stress is a top trigger for the disorder. (Other common culprits include certain foods, medications, or even having your period.) IBS is a condition that leads to chronic, crampy, painful lower abdominal pain accompanied by constipation or diarrhea or both. If these symptoms sound familiar, you might suffer from IBS and not even realize it -- more than 76 percent of people with the disorder go undiagnosed, according to a recent study.

There's no single cure for IBS, which may be caused by a glitch in how the nerves of the intestine send messages to the brain (experts aren't really sure). Different foods aggravate symptoms in different people, so keeping a meal diary for a few weeks to find your trigger foods is essential. Your doctor can prescribe an antispasmodic, such as Bentyl, to control colon muscle spasms and reduce abdominal pain; low-dose antidepressants can help block pain signals to nerve cells; and there are also medications such as alosetron hydrochloride (Lotronex) specifically for women whose primary IBS symptom is diarrhea, and lubiprostone (Amitiza) for women who suffer mostly constipation.

Learning to better cope with your stress can also reduce your IBS symptoms -- it did so for up to 72 percent of women with the condition in a recent study from the State University of New York at Buffalo. So consider counseling, yoga classes, meditation, or long walks or hikes, but don't fail to take this immediate tension-taming step this season: Cut down on holiday commitments by simplifying the menu for your Thanksgiving dinner, scaling back on social engagements and parties, or declaring a "one gift per family, please" rule with your friends and extended family members. Your tetchy tummy will thank you.

5 Ways to Quit Your Bellyachin'

1. Snack first. Arrive at holiday parties only a little hungry and you'll be less likely to suffer indigestion from eating too much, too fast.

2. Don't share. Food poisoning can be contagious, so use only your own glass, utensils, and plate -- and avoid sampling forkfuls of other people's food.

3. Move it. Daily exercise, even a short brisk walk, stimulates your bowels to process waste efficiently, preventing constipation.

4. Order the bubbly -- but make it seltzer, club soda, or sparkling mineral water. Otherwise, stick to plain old H2O. Keeping your alcohol intake low will lessen your chances of suffering a stomach-churning hangover or a more serious consequence like an inflamed pancreas. Staying hydrated prevents constipation too.

5. Breathe. Is the season's shopping, cooking, or kid-chauffeuring making you nuts? Close your eyes, inhale and exhale, and take a moment to regroup. Defusing the stress will help keep IBS under control and reduce your need for headache helpers like ibuprofen, which can irritate your stomach lining.


Originally published on November 15, 2008


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