Cramping, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, and diarrhea are challenging to manage at any given time. But if you experience a blend of these symptoms for more than three months, you may be suffering from a disease of the bowel known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Gastroenterologists diagnose millions of people with this condition every year, and IBS accounts for more than 3.5 million doctor visits annually. In this article, we’ll outline the basics of an IBS attack, common triggers for an IBS attack, and some simple tips for preventing IBS attacks.
What Is an IBS attack?
There are a variety of symptoms that can happen during an IBS attack, including:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Mucus in the stool
- Intestinal spams
A few or all of these IBS symptoms can occur at once, and certain symptoms may be more severe than others. Additionally, women with IBS report more intense GI symptoms, including pain and bloating, just before and during their menstrual cycle.
It’s important to remember that symptoms of IBS can fluctuate over time and can occur at any time. However, maintaining a symptom diary can help you and your doctor determine what triggers your IBS symptoms. Once you recognize the triggers of your symptoms, you can determine an effective plan to manage your condition.
Top Five Triggers of an IBS Attack
When you identify the things that can exacerbate your IBS symptoms, known as triggers, you can put in place measures for avoiding them, which will help to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Below are five common triggers of IBS:
Diet Triggers for IBS-related Constipation
Any foods or beverages that tend to dehydrate an individual are expected to cause constipation if you suffer from IBS and should be avoided if you have IBS-C. These foods include:
- Bread and cereals prepared with refined grains
- High-protein diets
- Dairy products, particularly cheese
- Processed foods, including cookies and chips
- Alcohol, coffee, and carbonated beverages
- Unripe bananas
Diet Triggers for IBS-related Diarrhea
Various foods may cause diarrhea if you suffer from IBS-D, including:
- Excess fiber, particularly insoluble fiber which is found in the skin of vegetables and fruits
- Carbonated drinks
- Foods that contain wheat for individuals who are allergic to gluten
- Dairy products, particularly in individuals who can’t breakdown the milk sugar lactose, known as lactose intolerance
- Food and fluids with chocolate, caffeine, sorbitol, alcohol, or fructose
IBS and migraine headaches may have a link as recent research has found that about half of all IBS patients deal with frequent headaches.
Stress and Anxiety
If you suffer from IBS, you may experience anxiety or stress-triggered symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal bloating, constipation, mucus defecation, and persistent sensations of incomplete bowel movements. Worries and stress can originate from various sources, such as:
- Work and family issues
- Financial difficulties
- A feeling that things are beyond your control
- Your commute
Numerous studies reveal that many women with IBS tend to experience serious symptoms during their menstrual periods. While the mechanism is unclear, some gastrointestinal cells are believed to have receptors for hormones like progesterone and estrogen such that variations in the levels of hormones throughout the menstrual period may cause an IBS attack.
Prescription or Over-the-Counter Medicines
Some medicines may initiate an IBS attack leading to constipation, colonic spasms, and diarrhea. These medications include:
- Cold medicine, including cough syrup that contains sorbitol
- Certain antidepressants
Tips for Preventing IBS Attacks
IBS symptoms can cause not only physical but also emotional stress. In addition to intense pain and discomfort, individuals with IBS usually find themselves caught out in public, completely unprepared for an attack.
Fortunately, there are measures you can take to manage symptoms of an IBS attack and even prevent them in the future.
Maintain a Symptom Diary
Monitoring your symptoms plays an important role in identifying your IBS attack patterns.
Your triggers may be the foods you consume, activities you participate in, or habits that trigger stress like rehearsing for a presentation or preparing your children for school. It will be easier for you to plan your day if you know your attacks are likely to come in the morning.
Identifying and documenting these patterns allows you to eliminate many of the doubts from your life and engage in activities more confidently.
Try Dietary Changes
As mentioned previously, there are certain foods, such as fatty foods and dairy products, that are known to trigger IBS symptoms. You can minimize the risk of an IBS attack by staying hydrated and eliminating these common triggers from your diet and replacing them with whole-grain cereals and bread, beans, vegetables, and fruits.
In addition to triggering IBS symptoms, stress makes them worse and long-term. So any steps you take to reduce your stress levels can go a long way in controlling your emotional response to IBS.
Below are a few practical tips for managing stress.
Embrace healthy habits. Consume a well-balanced diet that calms your IBS symptoms. Sufficient sleep and regular exercise is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle.
According to a study published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine in 2015, individuals with IBS who participated in an hour-long yoga session three times per week for three months reported improvement in their IBS symptoms and overall quality of life.
Have some fun. Take a walk, read a book, go shopping, or listen to your favorite music.
Seek support from family members, co-workers, close friends, or even your boss if you are comfortable.
It takes time and experimentation to identify a strategy that works for managing your IBS symptoms. After developing a routine that alleviates symptoms, you will need to adhere to it to prevent flare-ups.
Also, remember to seek advice and insights from your doctor concerning all your treatment choices for IBS.