There’s no cure for IBS, but medications along with dietary and lifestyle changes can help you prevent flare-ups.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder without a cure. Treatment for this condition centers around the reduction of flare-ups. If you have IBS, lifestyle and dietary changes exist that can give you long stretches of relief from symptoms.
IBS has three subtypes:
This condition is earmarked by symptoms that flare up and recede, like:
IBS can be challenging to live with, but there are steps you can take to make it manageable.
Increasing your fiber intake and avoiding gluten may help reduce symptoms like cramping, constipation, and diarrhea. A healthcare professional may also recommend you try the low FODMAP diet.
FODMAPs (fermentable, oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols) are a type of carbohydrate that you can’t fully digest. The bacteria in your gut ferment them, attracting water and producing gas. This causes feelings of bloating and other GI symptoms.
The low FODMAP diet aims to help you figure out which foods cause your IBS symptoms. Since triggers vary, it’s not a one-size-fits-all eating plan.
A low FODMAP diet typically has three phases:
- Elimination: Remove all FODMAPs from your diet for 2 to 4 weeks.
- Reintroduction: Reintroduce FODMAP food groups one at a time while you monitor yourself for symptom recurrence.
- Personalization: After determining which foods trigger symptoms and which you tolerate well, you’ll be able to generate a long-term, personalized eating plan that helps you avoid flare-ups.
Experts think an imbalance of your gut microbiota may exacerbate IBS symptoms. Your gut microbiota is the community of bacteria, fungi, and other substances that live in your digestive tract and help you digest food. They may also support other bodily functions, like your immune system.
Probiotics are supplements that contain live bacteria and yeasts. Data on their benefit for IBS is mixed, but several studies included in a
Probiotics work by generating and supporting a healthy balance of “good” gut microbiota levels.
It can take time to determine what your personal triggers are. Following a low FODMAP diet can help significantly, but FODMAPs are not the only IBS triggers you may have. Common trigger foods and beverages include:
- alcohol, especially red wine
- carbonated soda
- artificial sweeteners
- smoking cigarettes
- fried food
- processed foods, like chips, crackers, and cookies
- fatty food
- dairy products
- gluten and wheat products
- beans and lentils
- cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and Brussels sprouts
- alliums, including garlic and onions
Large meals may cause flares, even if you’re eating foods you tolerate well.
Your IBS type may provide clues to the trigger foods you’re most susceptible to. For example, eating too much fiber may cause diarrhea if you have IBS-D.
When thinking about triggers, it’s not just food you should consider. In people assigned female at birth, menstruation may trigger symptoms monthly or almost monthly. If your flares seem to coincide with your period, you may benefit from birth control methods that reduce or eliminate monthly bleeding.
Medications you take, both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescribed, may also be triggers. Talk with a healthcare professional about the medications you take to determine if any are associated with flare-ups. These include some antibiotics, certain antidepressants, and OTC drugs that contain sorbitol.
Doctors consider IBS a gut-brain interaction disorder. The way your digestive tract and your brain communicate may affect your symptoms. So, emotions like stress and anxiety can play a role in triggering flare-ups.
It can be hard to eliminate emotional triggers completely, but managing stress may be helpful. Strategies to try include:
- working with a therapist
- meditation and mindfulness
- getting enough rest
- spending time with friends and loved ones
- spending time in nature and with animals, including pets
- reducing screen time, including time spent on social media
- establishing boundaries around stressors, like unending work days or negative relationships
Since IBS has no cure, medical treatments aim to relieve symptoms. Your IBS type will determine which medications a healthcare professional recommends. Treatments include:
IBS is a chronic condition without a cure. But lifestyle changes, like following a low FODMAP eating plan and reducing stress, can significantly reduce symptoms and the frequency of flare-ups.
Identifying your triggers is an important step toward symptom relief. A healthcare professional may also recommend medications that may make life more comfortable.