Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 13, 2021

Be Prepared

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be a challenge to live with. Being out and about brings bigger challenges. If you think ahead and keep some emergency supplies handy, you can better handle your symptoms.

Know Where to Go

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Anyone with IBS needs to map out paths to follow if an emergency strikes. How do I get to the nearest restroom? What’s the quickest, easiest and least-conspicuous way out? If you have a plan, things will go a lot more smoothly when problems arise.

Check Out the Menu

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Going out to eat can be scary for someone with IBS. Something that can trigger your IBS can be hiding under a piece of lettuce or a slice of cheese. Most restaurants have a menu you can read online before you go. If you have questions or concerns, call the place. Better to figure things out now than have to wing it later.

Eat Ahead of Time

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Is everyone going to an Italian place, and you know you can’t eat that? Sometimes it’s best to get a meal in before you leave to avoid problems. If everyone else is eating and you don’t want to feel left out, nosh on something you know won’t trigger your IBS. Sip water. Just say you ate earlier. It’s OK.

Watch What You Eat

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Just because those fruits and veggies look harmless doesn’t mean they can’t trigger an episode. Hard-to-digest carbs in some fruits, vegetables, beans, and wheat can be a problem. Don’t ban those foods. Just know which are trouble for you. Onion and garlic can be tricky, too.

Learn to Chill

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If you’re out and about and feel your IBS getting mean, it might help to have a go-to stress reliever. Relaxation techniques like mindfulness, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation can help. Talk with your doctor.

Get Out, Work Out

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Research says physical activity lowers IBS symptoms. So some physical activity can help cut stress and keep everything under control. Talk with your doctor about what would be good for you.

Limit the Long Outings

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A commute. A meeting. A walk, even. When you have IBS, you know it can be hard to be away from your comfort zone -- not to mention a restroom. Try to cut the time you’re in the car or in a conference room or away from the bathroom. The longer you’re stuck somewhere, the more likely problems can be.

Let (Some) People Know

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You don’t have to tell everyone about your IBS. It might help to have someone at work, at home, or on the road who can cover for you when symptoms pull you away.

Have Medicine Handy

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A go-to for a lot of IBS sufferers, loperamide (Imodium) treats sudden diarrhea and slows muscles in your gut. Keep a few tablets (it comes in liquid form, too) on you or near you at all times. You can put it in your pocket, your car, and your desk. A good rule: Take it 20 minutes before you go somewhere you may face a problem.

Keep Gas at Bay

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Gas pills like simethicone or activated charcoal can help with bloating, too. They can be critical allies in spots, like in public, where IBS symptoms could be a problem.

Take What Works for You

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Peppermint oil can help with pain and bloating. And if you have other go-to remedies -- anything that helps, even only occasionally -- stash some in your kit. It can’t hurt.

Pack Spares

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An emergency kit isn’t complete without underwear and a pair of slacks. Keep a spare pair of each in a backpack or something similar, and make sure you can get to it when you need to.

Take Clean-ups

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Toilet paper and wet wipes are musts. Travel sizes of both are available. Make sure the toilet paper stays dry and clean in your kit, and that the wet wipes stay moist in their packet. Carry as much of each as you can fit in your kit.

Hand Sanitizer Helps

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The multi-packs of smaller, travel-sized bottles are probably better than the bigger, hard-to-handle bottles. But liquid hand sanitizer is a must for your kit. Keep some in the car, and the office, too.

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SOURCES:

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Johannesson, E. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, May 2011.

Harvard Health Publications: “Try a FODMAPs diet to manage irritable bowel syndrome.”

William D. Chey, MD, professor, GI & nutrition sciences; director, GI Physiology Laboratory; director, Digestive Disorders Nutrition & Lifestyle Program; medical director, Michigan Bowel Control Program, division of gastroenterology, University of Michigan Health System.

Kamil Obideen, MD, Roswell, GA.