Prescription and over-the-counter medications, reducing stress, and avoiding certain triggers can help manage IBS flare-ups.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes a range of symptoms, such as abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating, which can be challenging to treat.

After initial treatment, IBS may recur, causing you to experience more intense, uncomfortable symptoms, such as worsened diarrhea and painful abdominal cramps, which can last for a few days or weeks. This is known as an IBS flare-up or IBS attack.

Stress, consuming caffeine and alcohol, and eating certain foods can trigger IBS flare-ups.

Let’s discuss how to treat existing IBS flare-ups using medications, dietary changes, and lifestyle changes. We’ll also explain the goal of these treatments and when to get medical attention.

IBS is a chronic condition that has no cure. This means you may experience symptoms and flare-ups occasionally. But with treatment, you can manage the symptoms better.

IBS flare-up treatment aims to relieve your symptoms, reduce the frequency of flare-ups, prevent complications, and improve your quality of life.

Foods that cause excess gas, high-FODMAP foods, and foods that contain gluten may not be ideal for you if you have IBS.

Foods and beverages that cause excess gas

If you have IBS flare-ups that present with bloating and gassiness, consider limiting things like milk, wheat, and Brussels sprouts that can cause bloating and gassiness. Carbonated beverages and alcohol can also cause gas in the abdomen.

FODMAP foods

FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” They’re a group of carbohydrates that the small intestines absorb poorly. Examples include:

  • grains like wheat and rye
  • legumes like baked beans and soybeans
  • dairy products like cow milk and yogurt
  • sugar from fruits like mango and cherries

They often get fermented in your large intestines, causing the normal bacteria that help with digestion to release a lot of gas, leading to a feeling of bloating.

FODMAP foods can trigger other IBS symptoms like diarrhea and stomach upset. Research suggests that limiting the intake of such foods can help manage IBS flare-ups.

If you have an IBS flare-up, you may want to choose low FODMAP diets instead, such as:

  • quinoa
  • wheat-free grains, brown rice, and basmati rice
  • fish and poultry
  • bananas
  • berries
  • grapes
  • cucumbers
  • carrots
  • almond-based or rice-based milk
  • tomatoes
  • yams and potatoes
  • eggplants


Studies have shown a link between a group of proteins called gluten, found in grains, and IBS symptoms. Researchers aren’t sure if gluten causes or contributes to IBS, but a 2022 study indicates that eating non-gluten foods may help reduce IBS symptoms.

An estimated 70% of people with IBS link their symptoms to substances like caffeine. More research is needed to determine exactly how caffeine affects IBS.

If you find that coffee or other caffeinated beverages trigger your IBS symptoms, consider avoiding them.

Research indicates that psychological stress, caused by fear, anxiety, and depression, can alter the functioning of your gut, leading to symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, and discomfort.

You can manage your stress levels by:

  • exercising regularly
  • taking breaks from work and social media
  • taking care of your health
  • creating time for hobbies
  • yoga or breathing exercises

Being more physically active may relieve an in-progress IBS flare-up. One Iranian study showed that those with a sedentary lifestyle were 1.27 times more likely to experience IBS symptoms.

Some OTC medications may help calm IBS flare-ups.

  • Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) and loperamide (Imodium and Dioraleze): These are antidiarrheal medications and can help relieve your diarrhea and other symptoms like heartburn and stomach upset.
  • Simethicone: This is an antiflatulence medication used to treat bloating and trapped wind in the abdomen.
  • Peppermint oil oral supplements: According to a 2019 analysis of 12 trials, that treatment with peppermint oil improved abdominal pain and other symptoms of IBS. But you should speak with a doctor before trying this remedy.

A doctor can prescribe some medications to help calm your flare-up. Examples include:

  • Antispasmodics: Antispasmodics like dicyclomine and hyoscine may help relax your muscles, reducing spasms.
  • Laxatives: Laxatives like lubiprostone help increase fluid secretion in the small intestine, aiding bowel movement. It’s approved for treating people assigned female at birth who have IBS-C, a type of IBS that predominantly causes constipation.
  • Guanylate cyclase-C agonists: These include linaclotide. They also increase fluid secretion in the small intestines, helping feces to pass through.
  • Antibiotics: These include rifaximin. They can reduce bacterial overgrowth, causing fewer abdominal symptoms.
  • Antidepressants: These include imipramine and citalopram. A doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help block pain signals to the brain.

IBS symptoms can worsen during a flare-up. If you have gastrointestinal symptoms that won’t go away or symptoms that recur or worsen, you should consider speaking with a doctor.

Here are some common questions people ask about IBS flare-ups.

What does an IBS attack feel like?

An IBS attack can cause pain in the lower abdomen, bloating, nausea, and changes in bowel movement. Sometimes, it can also feel like you need to use the toilet urgently or like you haven’t finished having a bowel movement, even when you have.

What should I eat during an IBS flare-up?

There’s no one type of diet that works best for everyone with IBS. However, some studies have shown that it may be best to eat foods that don’t contain gas and gluten and low-FODMAP foods. A doctor may suggest you observe your body and note the foods that trigger or alleviate your symptoms.

Can you relieve IBS pain instantly?

IBS pain is difficult to stop instantly, but things like OTC pain medication, a heating pad, gentle abdominal massage, deep breathing, yoga, and peppermint oil may help symptoms resolve more quickly.

How long does it take for IBS flare-ups to go away?

How long IBS flare-ups last varies from person to person and also depends on whether you’re treating the symptoms. In some people, it can last for a few hours, while others may experience intense symptoms for more than 10 days.

If you have IBS, you likely experience occasional flare-ups that interfere with daily living. OTC and prescription medications and changes in daily routines can help manage flare-ups.

If you have IBS, consider speaking with a doctor about symptom management strategies, including dietary and lifestyle changes.