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Ready? Set? Gotta Go!

Posted 8/16/2017 by UHBlog

Is the pain and discomfort of gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome making it hard to get your workout in? We can help.

Ready? Set? Gotta Go!

If you're one of the estimated 10 to 15 percent of people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you might worry that you have to forego exercise.

Fear not, says gastroenterologist Gregory Cooper, MD.

“There are no reasons that you can’t exercise or participate in athletics just because you have IBS,” Dr. Cooper says. “I typically encourage my patients with gut problems to exercise. It’s a good stress reducer – and stress is one of the factors that contribute to IBS.”

IBS, a common digestive disorder, is the disease seen most often by gastroenterologists.

“IBS is a chronic condition and is probably not just one disease,” he says. “The diagnosis is made based on the symptoms a person exhibits. Since there is no blood test or X-ray that says you have IBS, we usually have to exclude other gastric problems to make the diagnosis.”

According to Dr. Cooper, the most common symptoms of IBS include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • A bloated feeling
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea or constipation, sometimes alternating between both
  • Mucus in the stool

IBS is a very individualized disease, Dr. Cooper says, as is your body’s response to it. Getting to know your body and what triggers your symptoms is an important part of successfully integrating exercise, athletics and IBS.

“Food is often a trigger,” Dr. Cooper says. “For example, fiber can stimulate increased motility and move stool through the bowel faster. I advise most of my patients to not eat just before exercising and exercise on an empty stomach if they can. If they need to eat, the diet before exercise should be mainly carbohydrates.”

It’s important to stay well hydrated, too. Water doesn’t stimulate the colon, and dehydration causes serious problems on its own.

It’s important to work with your doctor, especially since with IBS, you may need to get to a restroom quickly. This could necessitate changes in your exercise routine, depending on your sport of choice.

There are a number of treatment options to help you manage IBS. Among these are:

  • Managing your stress
  • Making diet changes
  • Avoiding certain foods, which may include:
    • High gas-producing foods such as carbonated beverages and certain vegetables and fruits
    • Some types of carbohydrates, including some grains and dairy products
  • Medications prescribed to treat IBS and lessen the side effects

“Learning your body and finding out what you can and cannot do is probably the most important part of exercising in IBS patients,” Dr. Cooper says. “Exercise is good for overall well-being and quality of life. Having IBS shouldn’t stop (you) from athletics.”

Gregory Cooper, MD, is a gastroenterologist and program director of Gastroenterology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, and co-program leader for Cancer Prevention and Control at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Cooper or any other doctor online.

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