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IBS can affect people of all ages. It’s estimated that about 10-15% of people in the United States have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but only 5-7% have an IBS diagnosis. While IBS is a common disorder, it’s frustrating. For most, it’s a chronic and lifelong problem, but with the right steps, you can manage your symptoms and live a perfectly normal life. 

What is IBS?


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the digestive system. The exact cause of it is relatively unknown. Possible factors that have a role to play include genetics and previous life experiences like trauma, infection, and bacteria.


Symptoms of IBS can range from relatively mild to completely debilitating at times. It can affect a person physically, emotionally, and mentally when they struggle to keep symptoms in check.


Although IBS symptoms can vary in individuals, the most common symptoms include:


  • Cramping

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhea

  • Bloating

  • Changes in appearance and occurrence of bowel movements



Researchers categorize the different types of IBS based on the symptoms you experience. It’s normal for symptoms to come and go. One day you may feel nothing, and other days IBS symptoms can flare-up. Here are the different types of IBS:


  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C) – abnormal bowel movement days consist of stools that are hard or lumpy.

  • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) – abnormal bowel movements days are loose instead of hard.

  • IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M) – a combination of the above on abnormal bowel movement days.

5 Common IBS Triggers to Avoid


While the precise cause of IBS remains unclear, there are common IBS triggers that tend to make symptoms worse. The problem with living with IBS is that you usually experience unpredictable symptoms. But if you can begin to track your symptoms and understand your triggers, you can start to manage IBS symptoms more effectively. If you think you might have IBS, here are five common triggers to avoid.

  1. Processed and Fatty Foods


Diet triggers for IBS involve a range of foods and drinks. Some foods can make the different types of IBS worse, depending on the individual. Watch out for what makes your symptoms worse. Here are some common diet triggers:


  • Processed foods

  • Fatty Foods

  • High-protein diets

  • Dairy foods, especially cheese

  • Bread and cereal (refined, not whole grain)

  • Too much insoluble fiber (cabbage, cauliflower, and beans)


If you think you might have IBS, you might not necessarily struggle with all of these foods. But if you start to notice that certain foods upset your IBS, then it’s a good idea to avoid these. The list above contains the most common food triggers.

  1. Stress


Often, stress can exacerbate IBS symptoms. What happens in your brain can affect your gut. When the stress hormone cortisol increases, it can impact the digestive system. In today’s world, stress can come from many places like work, family, and financial uncertainty. While it’s impossible to remove stress completely from your life, you can learn to manage stress more effectively with the following:


  • Healthy diet

  • Regular exercise

  • Relaxation techniques


  1. Lack of Sleep


Sleep is a crucial part of overall health. Research shows that there’s a strong association between sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal diseases. Also, poor sleep appears to magnify gastrointestinal symptoms. Either way, consistent and high-quality sleep helps you manage stress and supports your wellness.

  1. Too Much Caffeine and Alcohol


Research suggests that caffeine and alcohol can worsen IBS symptoms. While the degree of the effect can vary from one person to another, it appears that the effects of caffeine and alcohol on the gut are worse in people with IBS. It’s known that caffeine can encourage the bowel in most people, but it can have a larger effect if you have IBS. Also, alcohol can irritate the gut, which may trigger an IBS flare-up.


  1. Certain Medications


Some medications can cause diarrhea or constipation. If you find that you have a flare-up of symptoms, medication could be to blame. So, if a common side effect of the medication is constipation or diarrhea, the effect can be worse in someone with IBS. Speak to your doctor before taking any medication if you have any concerns.

How to Manage IBS Flare Up Symptoms


If you feel like a lot of IBS symptoms sound familiar, you may have the digestive disorder. Your doctor can advise you on your options for managing your symptoms through medications, lifestyle choices, and diet. In general, your stress, diet, and lifestyle will likely play a big part in your IBS. That means it usually requires some trial and error to find out what works for you and what doesn’t.


Here are some tips to help you manage an IBS flare-up:



As every person’s experience with IBS can be so different, it’s important to track your symptoms and patterns. Your stress, sleep, diet, exercise, and medications can influence IBS symptoms. Results won’t happen overnight. But by understanding your IBS, you can begin to figure out what kicks your symptoms into high gear and start to feel in control again.


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