Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic (or ongoing) condition that is noninflammatory. While it’s often compared with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease, IBS is different. It only affects the colon. IBS also doesn’t destroy your tissues.

Despite these key differences, IBS can still be a problem because of its symptoms. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, as many as 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience these symptoms.

Nausea is associated with IBS. Symptoms can come and go. When they do occur, they can greatly affect the quality of your life.

You can manage IBS with a combination of medical treatments and lifestyle changes, but it requires lifelong management. When it comes to nausea, it’s also important to determine whether it’s a co-occurring symptom of IBS, or if it’s related to something else.

IBS doesn’t have one single cause. According to the Mayo Clinic, the main factors include:

  • stronger intestinal contractions during normal digestive changes
  • acute gastrointestinal disease
  • abnormalities within the gastrointestinal system
  • abnormal signals between your intestines and brain

Despite the variety of causes of IBS, many people are more concerned with the symptoms that often disrupt their quality of life. There’s no single cause of IBS-related nausea, but it’s still common in people with IBS.

According to a 2014 study by Dr. Lin Chang, medical doctor and professor at UCLA, IBS-related nausea affects about 38 percent of women and 27 percent of men. Hormonal changes are an issue for women who have IBS. The condition affects mostly women, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Nausea in people who have IBS is often related to other common symptoms like fullness, abdominal pain, and bloating after eating. While not always the case, IBS nausea can occur most often after certain foods trigger your symptoms.

Certain medications used to treat IBS symptoms, like the drug lubiprostone, can also increase your risk of nausea. Other medications not related to IBS that can cause nausea include:

Other causes

While nausea can occur with IBS, your doctor may consider other causes if you don’t show any common IBS symptoms.

Your nausea can be related to other conditions, like:

See your doctor immediately if you have sudden weight loss and rectal bleeding. These can be signs of a more serious condition, such as colon cancer. You should also see your doctor immediately if you have:

  • a high fever
  • chest pain
  • blurry vision
  • fainting spells

In addition to IBS-related nausea, you might also have vomiting, a loss of appetite, and excessive burping.

Other common signs of IBS include, but aren’t limited to:

  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • cramps
  • diarrhea
  • gas

Nausea by itself is most commonly caused by viral gastroenteritis. If you only experience nausea temporarily, it may be part of an illness other than IBS.

Prescription medications solely intended for IBS include alosetron and lubiprostone. Alosetron helps to regulate your colon’s contractions and slows down digestion. Alosetron is only recommended for women who have tried other medications that have failed.

Lubiprostone works by secreting fluids in IBS patients experiencing chronic constipation. It’s also only recommended for women, but one of the side effects is nausea.

Sometimes IBS treatments will not help ease all related symptoms. It may be helpful to directly treat some of the most bothersome problems. With nausea that doesn’t go away, you might consider anti-nausea medications like prochlorperazine.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes can also prevent IBS symptoms like nausea. The Mayo Clinic identifies the following triggers of symptoms:

Increased stress

When you’re very stressed, you might experience more frequent or worsened symptoms. Being nervous or stressed can cause nausea in people that don’t have IBS. Therefore, having IBS might increase this risk even more. Alleviating stress may help your IBS symptoms.

Certain foods

Food triggers can vary, but food choices often increase IBS symptoms. The main triggers include:

  • alcohol
  • milk
  • caffeine
  • beans
  • fats
  • broccoli

Eliminating foods that trigger gas can help alleviate frequent nausea.

Remedies

Alternative medicine may help with nausea, but it’s important to use such remedies with caution. Herbs and supplements may interact with prescription drugs, and can worsen your condition. The following options may help your IBS and nausea:

Other remedies for IBS symptoms include:

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), mind and body practices are among the safest natural treatments for IBS. While these things can help, it’s important to remember that there’s no solid evidence backing them just yet.

IBS itself doesn’t lead to more serious complications, but nausea can become problematic.

For example, malnourishment can become a concern. Avoiding symptoms like nausea can discourage you from eating a wide range of foods that would otherwise be part of a balanced diet. Also, if your nausea causes vomiting, you might not get enough nutrients.

If IBS causes nausea, may find relief through long-term lifestyle changes. Anti-nausea drugs and changes in your medications can also help. It’s important to discuss all of your options with your gastroenterologist.

Follow up with your doctor if you have IBS and your nausea doesn’t improve.

Q:

Can my menstrual cycle affect my IBS symptoms?

Anonymous

A:

Yes, it can. The imbalance of female hormones — estrogen and progesterone — throughout the menstrual cycle can affect gut motility. This can potentially make the symptoms of IBS worse, and is especially true before the start of menstruation.

Mark LaFlamme, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

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