IBS Flare-ups: Triggers and Prevention Strategies

IBS Flare-ups: Triggers and Prevention Strategies

Author: Ellen Kessling, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, IBS & FODMAP Specialist

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder that affects millions of people worldwide.

It is a chronic condition that can cause significant discomfort and inconvenience to those who suffer from it.

One of the most challenging aspects of IBS is the unpredictable nature of flare-ups.

However, understanding the triggers of IBS flare-ups and implementing prevention strategies can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Triggers of IBS Flare-ups

The causes of IBS are not well understood, but there are several factors that can trigger flare-ups.

These triggers can vary from person to person, so it's essential to identify your personal triggers to manage your symptoms effectively.

1.   Diet

Food plays a significant role in IBS flare-ups.

Certain foods can trigger symptoms, while others can help prevent them.

Fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods are common triggers for many people with IBS.

Certain foods high in FODMAPs, or combinations of different high FODMAP foods can also be the cause of your ongoing flare ups. It is important to work with a specialist dietitian to identify your specific FODMAP triggers so you can prevent future flare ups.

Get help from a specialist dietitian here.

2.   Large Meal Sizes

Eating large meals or consuming food quickly can put a strain on the digestive system and disrupt its normal digestive function, leading to IBS symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, discomfort, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.

 Eating smaller, more frequent meals, chewing food thoroughly, and avoiding trigger foods can help reduce the risk of IBS symptoms flaring up.

Find your correct portion sizes and your trigger foods with the help of a specialist dietitian here.

3.   Stress

Stress is a common trigger for IBS symptoms.

When a person experiences stress, it can cause the body to release certain hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can affect the digestive system. These hormones can increase the sensitivity of the nerves in the digestive system, causing pain and discomfort.

Stress can also cause changes in gut motility, or the movement of food and waste through the digestive system. In some people, stress can cause the digestive system to speed up, leading to diarrhea. In others, it can slow down, causing constipation.

 Stress can also affect the gut microbiome, which is the community of bacteria that live in the digestive system. Stress can alter the balance of bacteria in the gut, leading to inflammation and other changes that can trigger IBS symptoms.

4.   Hormonal Changes

Women with IBS may experience flare-ups during their menstrual cycle due to hormonal changes.

 Hormonal changes can impact IBS because hormones can affect the functioning of the digestive system.

 For example, the hormone progesterone can cause the muscles in the digestive system to relax, which can lead to constipation. This is why women may experience IBS symptoms leading up to their menstrual cycle bleed, pregnancy, or menopause.

5.   Medications

Certain medications can irritate the digestive tract and cause IBS symptoms. Examples include antibiotics, antidepressants, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Some medications may also contain small amounts of FODMAPs which may also flare symptoms. Check whether your medications may be causing your symptoms by asking a specialist dietitian here.

6.   Infections

Infections can cause temporary IBS symptoms, or in some cases, these symptoms may persist even after the infection has cleared up.

Infections can cause an IBS flare-up by disrupting the normal functioning of the digestive system, causing inflammation, and altering the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome. Managing infections promptly and effectively, and following up with a Dietitian soon after can help reduce the risk of developing long-term IBS symptoms.


Prevention Strategies for IBS Flare-ups

While IBS is a chronic condition and may never truly resolve, there are several prevention strategies that individuals can implement to manage their symptoms effectively and live with IBS relatively freely.

Here are some strategies that may help prevent IBS flare-ups.

1.   Identify Personal Triggers

The first step in preventing IBS flare-ups is to identify your personal triggers. If you have not done this, it is time to see a specialist Dietitian and take this first step to finding relief: click here!

2.   Follow a Low-FODMAP Diet Under Guidance

FODMAPs are certain types of carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, leading to symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea in people with IBS.

 Following a low-FODMAP diet can help reduce IBS symptoms, but this should only be followed for a maximum of 6 weeks unless otherwise directed by your Dietitian. It is recommended to work with a specialist dietitian to go through the low FODMAP process. Click here for our recommended specialist Dietitian.

3.   Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals

Eating smaller, more frequent meals, chewing food thoroughly, and avoiding trigger foods can help reduce the risk of IBS symptoms flaring up.

4.   Stress Management

Stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help reduce stress levels and prevent IBS flare-ups.

Regular exercise is also an effective stress management tool that can help improve digestion and prevent constipation.

5.   Regular Exercise

Low intensity exercise can help improve digestion and prevent constipation. Walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling are all effective forms of exercise.

6.   Medications

If you're taking medications that are causing IBS symptoms, talk to your Doctor or Dietitian about switching to a different medication or adjusting your dosage.

In some cases, medications may be necessary to manage symptoms.

In conclusion

IBS flare-ups can be very uncomfortable, but with the help of a specialist dietitian to identify triggers and implement prevention strategies, we can help manage your symptoms effectively.

If you want to learn more about how to resolve your IBS symptoms for good, identify your triggers and rebuild a healthy gut, visit @theibsprogram for more information!

The IBS Program is a unique program with a proven framework designed to get you relief for your IBS symptoms as fast and as effectively as possible.

Author: Ellen Kessling, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, IBS & FODMAP Specialist

Ellen is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian & Nutritionist specialising in women’s health, gastrointestinal health and the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.

I value FodShop for providing my clients with a safe space to go to when finding tummy-friendly products. They have such a wide range of products to suit all different dietary needs and it is a one-stop shop which I really appreciate.

Ellen completed her 4-year Health Science Degree at the University of Adelaide, and then went on to complete her 2-year Master's degree in Nutrition & Dietetics at Flinders University. She is a trained Monash FODMAP Dietitian and has developed expertise in gut health and IBS management, and enjoys the area of women’s health, including skin, hormones, fertility, and pre & post pregnancy nutrition.

She loves treating all areas of women's health with a holistic and empathetic approach to practice and encourages sustainable, long-term changes rather than quick fixes. She has a focus on packages and programs in her practice to provide more ongoing, specialised care and support beyond what a 1:1 consultation can offer.

She believes a well-rounded, holistic approach to care leads to more effective and sustainable results in her clients.






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